A series of U.S. Supreme Court rulings between 2010 and 2016 banned mandatory life-without-parole sentences for teenagers, giving thousands of juvenile lifers around the country a shot at release. But, Mother Jones reports, only about 400 have been freed from more than 2,600 juvenile lifers serving time in 2016.
Among those who have not been helped are the 600 people serving discretionary life sentences with no chance of parole. For instance, people like Cyntoia Brown, who killed a middle-aged man when she was 16 after he brought her to his Tennessee home for sex. A federal judge ruled her mandatory life sentence was constitutional because it included the option of parole—a state court recently decided she’ll be locked up for at least half a century.
As a result of the high court’s decisions, the number of states banning life without parole for children in all cases, not just in mandatory sentencing schemes, has quadrupled since 2012.
Of the more than 2,600 juvenile lifers in 2016, about 1,700 have been re-sentenced. The court gave states leeway to decide how to review lifers’ cases, leading to inconsistencies across the country.
In Pennsylvania, home to the nation’s second-biggest juvenile lifer population, prosecutors are required to “prove beyond a reasonable doubt” that a defendant can never be rehabilitated if they want to deny the option of parole during resentencing; otherwise, the presumption is he should be given a second chance.
But in Michigan, where 363 juvenile lifers were serving mandatory sentences in 2016, there is no such requirement, and prosecutors have argued that nearly two-thirds of juvenile lifers are those rarest offenders who should be kept in prison for good. “Justice in this country is largely based on where you live,” says Jody Kent Lavy, director of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, an advocacy group.