Putting minors in prison for life: Is it constitutional?
December 4, 2011
The U.S. Supreme Court will again consider limitations on sentencing minors to life in prison without parole. Six years ago, the Supreme Court ruled in Roper v Simmons that minors who commit crimes when they are under the age of eighteen, cannot receive the death penalty. Just 18 months ago, the Court ruled in Graham v Florida that life in prison without parole for minors was unconstitutional for juvenile offenders that commit crimes other than homicide. Now the Court has agreed to hear two cases involving 14-year-olds who were convicted of murder and are now serving life sentences. In both cases, Jackson v Hobbs and Miller v Alabama, lawyers for the minors are challenging the sentencing as violating their clients’ Eighth Amendment protections against cruel and unusual punishment. Nationally, about 2,400 prisoners are serving life in prison for crimes they committed while they were minors. But in a poll conducted by the Campaign for Youth Justice, 76% of those surveyed believe that “juveniles have the potential to change for the better.” In fact, recent research indicates that brain development continues well beyond the age of eighteen. Teenagers, therefore, may be less able to control their aggression or impulses. The Court will hear these cases in early 2012 and a decision is expected by June.