The Sentencing Project’s new report investigates “The Lives of Juvenile Lifers”

 “The Lives of Juvenile Lifers”, the first-ever national survey of this population, investigates the life experiences of individuals serving sentences of life without parole for offenses committed as juveniles.

The report presents  findings from a comprehensive look that offers new perspectives on people who committed crimes before the age of 18, and some as young as 13. More than 2,500 people are currently serving these sentences in the United States.

The report comes just weeks before the Supreme Court hears oral arguments in the cases of two 14-year olds, Miller v. Alabama and Jackson v. Hobbs, which will address questions about the constitutionality of sentencing teens to life without the possibility of parole.

“Most juveniles serving life without parole sentences experienced trauma and neglect long before they engaged in their crimes,” stated Ashley Nellis, research analyst of The Sentencing Project and author of the report. “The findings from this survey do not excuse the crimes committed but they help explain them. With time, rehabilitation and maturity, some of these youth could one day safely re-enter society and contribute positively to their families and their communities.”

The Lives of Juvenile Lifers survey draws a portrait of the severe disadvantage experienced by those serving life sentences without parole:

•  Juvenile lifers, especially girls, suffered high rates of abuse—nearly half (46.9%)
of lifers experienced physical abuse, including 79.5 % among girls.
•  Juvenile lifers were exposed to high levels of violence in their homes (79%) and their communities (54.1%).
•   African American youth constitute 43.4% of life without parole sentences for a murder with a white victim, nearly twice the rate at which they are arrested for such crimes, 23.7%.

Failed by systems intended to protect youth, many juveniles sentenced to life without parole first suffer from extreme socioeconomic disadvantage, and are then sentenced to an extreme punishment deemed unacceptable in any other nation.

The full report is available here.