By Prison Law Blog
An overwhelming majority of prisoners serving life
sentences without parole for crimes committed as juveniles were exposed to
domestic violence and lived in poverty, while significant numbers failed in
school, were influenced by friends in trouble with the law and grew up in a
home missing at least one parent who was incarcerated, according to a report by
The Sentencing Project.
The report, based on the most comprehensive survey to
date of prisoners serving life sentences for crimes they committed as
juveniles, calls for the elimination of life without parole (LWOP) sentences
for juvenile offenders. The report also recommends a closer inspection of the
racial dynamics of the juvenile justice system, which imposes LWOP sentences on
black youths at an alarmingly higher rate than on white youths.
“Juveniles serving life sentences have had their
lives defined by a serious crime committed in their youth, but it is not a
complete picture of who they are,” wrote Ashley Nellis, Ph.D., a research
analyst for The Sentencing Project and the report’s author.
“Although it does not excuse their crimes,”
she added, “most people sent to prison for life as youth were failed by
systems that are intended to protect children.”
Researchers for The Sentencing Project collected data
from 1,579 juvenile lifers across the United States between October 2010 and
August 2011. The average time served by the prisoners surveyed was 15 years,
and almost a fourth had been incarcerated at least 21 years.