‘National Consensus’ Emerging Against Juvenile Life Without Parole


Since 2012, nine states have changed their laws to abolish juvenile sentences of life without parole (JLWOP), after the United States Supreme Court held that the sentences violate the Eighth Amendment, according to a study forthcoming in the American University Law Review. Measuring the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment against “evolving standards of decency,” the authors of the study argue that the “national consensus” is moving away from this sentencing practice.

The authors write that the emergence of a “superpredator myth” in the 1990s, which portrayed juvenile offenders as dangerous and remorseless, resulted in the JLWOP sentence being largely imposed on minority youth.

More than one-fifth of all the JLWOP sentences nationwide are concentrated in a handful of counties (Philadelphia, Pa., Los Angeles, Calif., Orleans, La., Cook, Ill. and St. Louis City, Mo.), and only nine states account for 82 percent of all sentences, according to the study entitled “Juvenile Life Without Parole in Law and Practice: The End of Superpredator Era Sentencing.” But the states and jurisdictions that have been the most frequent users of JLWOP practice have recently limited the sentencing practice significantly.

“The rate, direction, and consistency of the change in JLWOP statutes, together with its waning use, where still available, in actual practice, strongly suggest the penalty is not constitutional,” write John R. Mills, Anna M. Dorn, and Amelia Courtney Hritz. “The policy’s racist origins and implementation require rigorous examination now to determine whether it possesses any legitimate penological justification.”

Read the study HERE.

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