Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Juvenile Life Without Parole and Juvenile Justice Policy

A new report released by The Sentencing Project, The Lives of Juvenile Lifers, is based on their survey of more than 1,500 prisoners who were sentenced to prison terms of life without parole when they were between the ages 13 to 17. The key themes established in the report include:

Socioeconomic Disadvantages, Education Failure, & Abuse

  • Two in five respondents had been enrolled in special education classes.
  • 77.3% of girls reported histories of sexual abuse; overall, 20.5% of juvenile lifers report being victims of sexual abuse.
Extreme Racial Disparities in JLWOP Sentences
  • The proportion of blacks serving life for killing a white person is much higher than the proportion of whites sentenced to life for killing blacks.
JLWOP Sentences Frequently Imposed Mandatorily
  • The majority of JLWOP sentences are imposed in states in which judges are obligated to sentence individuals without consideration of any factors relating to a juvenile’s age or life circumstances.
Corrections Policies Curtail Efforts at Rehabilitation
  • Most (61.9%) juvenile lifers are not engaged in programming in prison, but this is generally not due to lack of interest, but because of state or prison policies.

The report includes detailed analysis and more statistics regarding these themes and others. In addition to this report, there are a number of useful resources to learn more about the broader issues and impact of juvenile offenders and juvenile justice policy, including:

  • The Campaign for Youth Justice: An organization dedicated to ending the practice of trying, sentencing and incarcerating youth under the age of 18 in the adult criminal justice system.
  • The Burns Institute: The W. Haywood Burns Institute’s mission is to protect and improve the lives of youth of color, poor youth and the well-being of their communities by reducing the adverse impacts of public and private youth-serving systems to ensure fairness and equity throughout the juvenile justice system.
  • Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative: Designed to support the Casey Foundation’s vision that all youth involved in the juvenile justice system have opportunities to develop into healthy, productive adults.
  • Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention: OJJDP, A component of the U.S. Department of Justice, provides national leadership, coordination, and resources to prevent and respond to juvenile delinquency and victimization. OJJDP supports states and communities in their efforts to develop and implement effective and coordinated prevention and intervention programs and to improve the juvenile justice system so that it protects public safety, holds offenders accountable, and provides treatment and rehabilitative services tailored to the needs of juveniles and their families.
  • The Center for Juvenile Justice Reform: The Center for Juvenile Justice Reform at Georgetown University's Public Policy Institute is designed to support leaders in the juvenile justice and related systems of care. The Center seeks to complement the good work being done across the country in juvenile justice reform by providing a multi-systems perspective and set of resources in support of this work.

When young people engage in delinquent or criminal behavior and are arrested it is important that they are held accountable for their actions. Policy must ensure that public safety remains a priority while addressing young people’s actions in ways that take into account their diminished decision-making capacity, their susceptibility to peer influence, and their unformed character, all of which make them less responsible for their conduct than are adults who commit similar offenses.

For new and updated results-based policy strategies for both preventing delinquency and ensuring quality juvenile justice services visit our homepage to sign-up for e-mail updates - coming soon!