With the Supreme Court set to hear oral arguments in a case that could determine the constitutionality of life sentences without parole for juveniles, a new report looks at the lives of the more than 2,300 people currently serving life sentences for crimes they committed before they turned 18.
The new report, “The Lives of Juvenile Lifers,” analyzes the findings of a first-ever national survey of this unique prison population.
“The goal was to find out more about who these people are, their community and background,” Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, which produced the report, said during a conference call Wednesday.
Ashley Nellis, the report’s author and a research analyst at the Sentencing Project, said the intention was to highlight the individual stories of those serving sentences of life without parole.
“A lot of times we hear solely about the offense for which they are serving,” she said. “They are more than just their crime.”
Many came from troubled homes. According to the survey, nearly 80 percent of those serving juvenile life without parole sentences (JLWOP) experienced high levels of exposure to violence in their homes. More than half witnessed weekly violence in their neighborhoods.
Given that 33 states currently allow JLWOP sentences, the US Supreme Court will likely uphold the sentences as NOT cruel and unusual because historically Justices make this determination based on state legislative activity and public opinion (if states do it and people support it, it is not an 8th Amendment violation). However, the Court already ruled, in a 5-4 decision, that JLWOP is unconstitutional in cases where a murder has not occurred.