Juvenile Life Without Parole (JLWOP)

In the United States today, over 2,500 individuals are behind bars for life without the possibility of parole for crimes that they committed as juveniles. Currently, all but seven states permit the sentence for certain types of offenses. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch report that the United States is the only country in the world that regularly applies life without parole for offenses committed before the age of 18.

In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Roper v. Simmons, holding that sentencing individuals to death for crimes they committed as youth constituted cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Five years later, the Court decided Graham v. Florida, applying much of Roper's reasoning to hold that that it is unconstitutional to sentence individuals under the age of 18 to life without parole in non-homicide cases.

In June 2012, the Supreme Court issued a decision in Jackson v. Hobbs and Miller v. Alabama, two cases where 14-year-olds were automatically sentenced to life without parole for homicide. The Court held that mandatory sentences of life without parole for crimes committed under the age of 18 violated the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

CCLP Publications

  • Amicus Brief in Support of Petitioners, Graham v. Florida [download]
    In this Amicus Brief, the Center for Children's Law & Policy joined with 39 other organizations and 17 experts from the field to argue that JLWOP sentences violate the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The court heard oral argument in the case on November 9, 2009.

  • Sentencing Children to Die in Prison is Cruel and Unusual Punishment [link]
    In this commentary for JURIST, an online legal news publication, Staff Attorney Jason Szanyi argues that the Supreme Court should hold that life without parole sentences for children who commit crimes before the age of 18 violate the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

CCLP Presentations

Other Resources

  • The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth [link]
    The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth is a national organization working to end juvenile life without parole in the United States. Their website contains a wide range of resources and background materials, including a state-by-state map of individuals serving JLWOP sentences and a collection of recent news articles.

  • Equal Justice Initiative - Children in Adult Prison [link]
    The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) is a private, nonprofit organization that provides legal representation to indigent defendants and prisoners who have been denied fair and just treatment in the legal system. EJI's website contains information on juvenile life without parole, including up-to-date information on two cases pending before the U.S Supreme Court on the constitutionality of life sentences without the possibility of parole for youth convicted of homicide.

  • This Is Where I’m Going to Be When I Die: Children Facing Life Imprisonment without the Possibility of Release in the USA [download]
    In December 2011, Amnesty International released a new report calling for an end to life sentences without parole for youth imprisoned for crimes committed while they were children. The report highlights key issues through the stories of three individuals currently serving life sentences without parole.

  • Supreme Court decision in Graham v. Florida [download]
    On May 17, 2010 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that sentencing youth who did not commit murder to life without parole is unconstitutional. Justice Anthony Kennedy authored the decision, which held that the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment did not permit the imposition of a sentence of life without the possibility of parole for youth under the age of 18 in cases involving crimes other than homicide.

  • Supreme Court decision in Roper v. Simmons [download]
    On March 1, 2005, the U.S Supreme Court held that sentencing individuals to death for crimes committed before those individuals turned 18 violated the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. The Court' relied heavily on adolescent brain development research when deciding that a youth's lower level of culpability rendered the death penalty cruel and unusual punishment.

  • Until They Die A Natural Death: Youth Sentenced to Life Without Parole in Massachusetts [download]
    This report, issued by the Children's Law Center of Massachusetts in September 2009, looks at Massachusetts youth who have received mandatory life without parole sentences since the Commonwealth's law changed in 1996. It highlights the ways in which youth are fundamentally different from adults and identifies the need for judicial discretion for juveniles at the sentencing phase.
  • The Rest of Their Lives [download]
    This 2005 report, co-authored by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, explores JLWOP in-depth, providing an analysis of many issues including international law, life without parole in adult prisons, and developmental differences between youth and adults. The report concludes that youth "should be held accountable, but in a manner that reflects their special capacity for rehabilitation.
  • Less Guilty by Reason of Adolescence [download]
    This Issue Brief by the MacArthur Foundation's Research Network on Adolescent Development and Juvenile Justice outlines key ways in which juveniles and adults differ at certain ages and phases of development.
  • Abolish Life Without Parole Sentences for Children in the USA [link]
    This blog, maintained by The Injustice Must End Committee contains a comprehensive, up-to-date collection of news articles, reports, and other resources on JLWOP.
  • When Kids Get Life [link]
    In May 2007, PBS's Frontline focused on JLWOP, featuring the stories of five prisoners held in Colorado. PBS developed a comprehensive website with a video of the program, a state-by-state map of individuals being held as JLWOP, and a wealth of other resources on the issue.


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