Apr 26, 2021
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of allowing judges to sentence juveniles to life without parole. The case they were considering in making their decision was that of Brett Jones, from Mississippi, who was 15 when he stabbed his grandfather to death. His grandfather found him with his girlfriend in his bedroom and the two had argued before the stabbing.
With this decision, the current justices effectively overturned a previous Supreme Court ruling from 2012 banning mandatory sentencing of life without parole by judges without taking the defendant’s age into account. A later Supreme Court decision, in 2016, said the 2012 decision should be applied retroactively. It was those two decisions, in fact, that eventually allowed Brett Jones to appeal his current sentence of life without parole before the Supreme Court.
Since 2012, 32 states in the U.S. have changed their laws regarding sentencing of juveniles to life without parole, although 26 states still allow for that possibility, and others allow for long sentences that virtually amount to the same thing. The number of prisoners serving life without parole who were sentenced as juveniles dropped from around 2,500 in 2012 to 1,465 today.
Every other country in the world besides the U.S. recognizes sentencing of juveniles to life without parole for what it is—barbaric! The United States is the only country in the world that allows such sentencing. In fact, the United Nations banned the practice in 1989 in its Conventions on the Rights of the Child, and the U.S. and Somalia are the only two member countries that refused to ratify them.
Every other country recognizes what most people know and what scientists have confirmed, that adolescent brains are not fully developed and have less impulse control. Life without parole completely eliminates the possibility for young offenders to be rehabilitated. Many of those who have benefitted from having their sentences reviewed since the 2012 and 2016 decisions have shown they could be rehabilitated and become productive members of society.
Sentencing of juveniles to life without parole is a symptom of a judicial system that favors the wealthy over the working class, poor, and minorities. A 2012 study by The Sentencing Project showed that prisoners sentenced as juveniles to life without parole were more likely to have witnessed violence in their homes regularly, grow up in public housing, been enrolled in special education classes, have not attended school at the time of their offense, and been physically abused. Most girls reported histories of physical and sexual abuse. Black juveniles were more likely to receive the sentence for killing a white person than a white juvenile was for killing a black person.
In the face of the Derek Chauvin convictions, the Court made a clear demonstration that there will be no change to the American system of “injustice”—if the Supreme Court has anything to say about it!