In Illinois, 103 people are serving life sentences for murders they committed as minors. The Washington Post reports that the state’s mandatory life sentence law, with its tough provision for people whose role in a crime may have been small, was passed in the 1970s at a time of concern over rising youth crime rates. Now it is now being challenged. A coalition of human rights groups, defense lawyers, and lawmakers wants to do away with mandatory life sentences for juveniles and to reconsider the cases of those who were sentenced as juveniles and are serving now.
Some victims’ relatives and Chicago’s prosecutor are outraged about the parole proposal, saying these detainees include the perpetrators of horrific crimes, almost half committed by 17-year-olds. Cook County state’s attorney spokesman John Gorman said a youth would have to be convicted of multiple murder, the murder of a police officer, or the murder of a child to receive life without parole. “These are not routine killings,” said Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins, whose pregnant sister was murdered by a 16-year-old in 1990 as she begged him to spare her child’s life. Israel is the only other country that sentences juveniles to life without parole. It has seven in detention, compared with more than 2,300 in the U.S., said a report by a coalition led by Northwestern University Law School’s Children and Family Justice Center and the John Howard Association.