The Atlantic

The Reckoning Over Young Prisoners Serving Life Without Parole

The U.S. Supreme Court has spent a decade limiting the harshest sentence given to juvenile offenders. But state supreme courts are still grappling with how those rulings should play out.
Source: Eddie Keogh / Reuters

It’s been more than seven years since the U.S. Supreme Court began to chip away at life-without-parole sentences for juvenile offenders, and lower courts are still wrestling with how to apply the justices’ logic to the American criminal-justice system.

Life sentences are an American institution. According to a recent Sentencing Project report, more than 200,000 people are serving either life in prison or a “virtual” life sentence: They haven’t been explicitly sentenced to spend their natural lives behind bars, but their prison terms extend beyond a typical human lifespan. Of these prisoners, thousands were sentenced as juveniles. More than 2,300 are serving life without parole, often abbreviated LWOP, and another 7,300 have virtual life sentences. Only after they serve decades in prison do members of the latter group typically become eligible for parole.

Where these young people are is highly concentrated: The Sentencing Project found California, Georgia, Texas, and New York account for 63 percent of them. Other states have abandoned the practice altogether. At least 17 now prohibit LWOP sentences for juveniles in all circumstances, according to a recent tally by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

“There’s been a

Stai leggendo un'anteprima, registrati per continuare a leggere.

Altro da The Atlantic

The Atlantic4 min lettiAmerican Government
Kamala Harris Is the Decider
With a 50–50 split in the Senate, Harris is poised to have final say over crucial decisions in the coming years.
The Atlantic11 min lettiInternational Relations
The Case Against the Iran Deal
Reviving the JCPOA will ensure either the emergence of a nuclear Iran or a desperate war to stop it.
The Atlantic4 min lettiPolitics
Can Abolition Work in an Age of Right-Wing Extremism?
Punishment can radicalize and further alienate people, while social policy and grassroots community building can defuse potential violence.