At least 2,500 inmates nationwide who were convicted of murder as juveniles have been sent to prison with no chance of parole. The Los Angeles Times say that the U.S. Supreme Court and California legislators may give some of these inmates another chance. The court will hear arguments March 20 in two cases involving 14-year-olds, on whether it is unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment to put young juvenile murderers in prison without hope of release.
In Sacramento, a state Senate-passed bill to make juvenile murderers eligible for parole fell two votes short in the Assembly last year but is up for reconsideration this week. In the Supreme Court, attorneys for the 14-year-olds point to forensic evidence that a teenager’s brain is not fully developed and that youths consequently take too many risks. Laurence Steinberg, a psychology professor at Temple University, says, “Adolescents, because of their immaturity, should not be deemed as culpable as adults. But they also are not innocent children whose crimes should be excused.” Even if these inmates win in Washington or California, it does not mean they will all be released. They would have to prove to judges and parole boards that they deserve to go home, probably after they have served 25 years. They would need to show near-unblemished prison records, true remorse and proof they can function in society.