About 9,700 Americans are serving life sentences for crimes they committed before they turned 18, reports the New York Times. More than a fifth have no chance for parole. Juvenile criminals are serving life terms in at least 48 states, according to a survey by the Times, and their numbers have increased sharply over the past decade.
The United States is one of only a handful of countries that imprison teen criminals for life without parole. The most severe form of life sentence, is theoretically available for juvenile criminals in about a dozen countries. A report due next week from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International found juveniles serving such sentences in only three others. Israel has seven, South Africa has four and Tanzania has one. By contrast, the report counted some 2,200 people in the United States serving life without parole for crimes they committed before turning 18. More than 350 of them were 15 or youngert. The Supreme Court ruling this year to ban the juvenile death penalty has convinced prosecutors and activists that the next legal battleground in the U.S. will be over life in prison for juveniles. At the argument in the juvenile death penalty case, Justice Antonin Scalia said the reasons offered against execution apply just as forcefully to life without parole. Justice Scalia voted, in dissent, to retain the juvenile death penalty. “I don’t see where there’s a logical line,” he said at the argument.