There are 2,225 people serving life terms in prison without parole for crimes committed as juveniles, most of them in a handful of states where judges don’t have the discretion to impose lighter penalties, says a report from Amnesty International USA and Human Rights Watch quoted by the Associated Press. Pennsylvania has the most such inmates (332), followed by Louisiana (317), Michigan (306) and Florida (273). All four states have laws making life without parole mandatory for certain crimes. “Kids who commit serious crimes shouldn’t go scot-free,” said Alison Parker of Human Rights Watch. “But if they are too young to vote or buy cigarettes, they are too young to spend the rest of their lives behind bars.”
The groups would like the U.S. to end the life without parole penalty, which is allowed in 43 states but imposed in only a handful of other countries. Dianne Clements, president of the Houston-based Justice for All, a victims’ advocacy group, said taking away life-without-parole sentences would remove a strong deterrent to crime. “Judges don’t legislate, legislative bodies do. They legislate based on the will of the people, and that will says life without parole is an appropriate punishment,” she said. The study said 93 percent of youth offenders sentenced to life without parole were convicted of murder. Fifty-nine percent had no prior convictions and 16 percent were 15 or under, factors that in states where judges are given flexibility could result in lesser sentences.