Juvenile Life Without Parole Sentences Drop; New High Court Test Coming


After the Supreme Court prohibited mandatory juvenile life without parole sentences in a 2012 case called Miller v. Alabama, nine states have abolished the practice, bringing the total to 15, says a report by the Phillips Black Project, a public interest law practice with offices in five cities. The report says that is “a much more rapid change than it took for a comparable number of states to abandon the execution of juveniles or the intellectually disabled.” Life without parole sentences for youth expanded in the 1990s, which the report calls “an era of hysteria over juvenile superpredators.” Since the 1990s, the number of juvenile life without parole sentences has dropped significantly.

Nine states account for more than 80 percent of all juvenile life without parole sentences, the study says. Philadelphia is responsible for nearly ten percent of all such sentences nationwide. The sentences are mainly “isolated in a handful of outlier jurisdictions,” the report says. It contends that a black offender is twice as likely to receive a life without parole sentence as is a white counterpart. Next month, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in Montgomery v. Louisiana, a case testing whether the Miller ruling is retroactive.

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