Blog: ACLU

Throwaway Kids: Is It Time to Rethink Juvenile Life Without Parole Sentencing?

Next week the United States Supreme Court will hear arguments in two historic cases. Incredibly, the cases — from Alabama, Miller v. Alabama, and Arkansas, Jackson v. Hobbs — concern the practice, unique to the United States, of imprisoning teenagers for the rest of their natural lives for crimes committed while they were still developing into adulthood. The U.S. stands utterly alone on this one — no other country in the world locks up its children for crimes committed before they could legally drive, join the military, vote or sometimes even get married.
Miller and Jackson are next in a line of cases decided recently by the Court addressing appropriate constitutional protections and punishment of youth. In Roper v. Simmons in 2005, the Supreme Court found the death sentence for any minor convicted of murder unconstitutional; in Graham v. Florida, five years later, the Court barred a life-without-parole sentence for a minor who committed a crime other than murder. The fundamental reasoning of these decisions was that undeveloped youthful judgment and moral sense make severe punishment cruel and unusual — and thus a violation of the Eighth Amendment. Last year, in J.D.B. v. North Carolina, the Court recognized that there is a heightened risk of coercion when children are subject to police interrogation without their parents or a lawyer in the room.