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Juvenile Life Without Parole
By Naoka Carey and Jody Kent Lavy
Of the 2,500 people in the United States who have been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for crimes committed before they were 18, two-thirds of them are concentrated in just five states — Pennsylvania, Michigan, Louisiana, California, and Florida. There are thousands more children across the country sentenced to “virtual life” sentences of 60, 70, 80, or 100 or more years.
Most of the people serving juvenile life without parole (JLWOP) sentences are not repeat offenders, nor were many found guilty of pre-meditated crimes: nearly 60 percent of people serving JLWOP are first-time offenders, and more than one-fourth of them were convicted on the basis of “felony murder” or accomplice liability theories. Not surprisingly, research on the use of the sentence around the country has found evidence of systemic racial disparities, gross failures in legal representation, and numerous examples of youth being sentenced more harshly than adults convicted of the same type
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