At least ten states have made “systemic changes” in their juvenile justice systems in response to the 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling declaring mandatory life without parole sentences for teens unconstitutional, says the national group called The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth. The organization’s advocacy director, James Dold, says state courts are “split down the middle” about whether the Supreme Court ruling should retroactively apply to youths who were already serving life terms with no possibility of parole before the Supreme Court ruled. (The high court today refused to hear a case seeking to resolve this issue, reports Scotusblog.com.) Dold spoke Saturday to the closing session of the annual Coalition for Juvenile Justice convention in Washington, D.C.
About 2,000 juveniles are serving life sentences under mandatory state schemes affected by the Supreme Court ruling, which did not rule out life without parole sentences for juveniles if courts could take mitigating factors into account. West Virginia eliminated life without parole penalties for youth entirely this year but most states have not taken that step. Dold told the coalition that those opposed to abolishing the harsh sentence still believe to one degree or another that the public still wants to be “tough on crime,” that some repeat juvenile offenders are “superpredators,” and that some young lawbreakers fall into the category of “once a criminal, always a criminal.”