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Let's End Juvenile Life Sentences Without Parole Now!

Nahal Zamani,
Human Rights Program
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June 9, 2009

Today at 3:00 pm, the U.S. House of Representative’s Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security will convene a hearing on H.R. 2289, the “Juvenile Justice Accountability and Improvement Act of 2009.” This legislation would deny funding to states that refuse to offer a parole option to juvenile offenders and authorize state grants to improve legal representation for youths charged with life sentences.

It’s hard to believe that the United States still sentences children as young as 13 to spend the rest of their lives in prison without any opportunity for release. Right now, there are approximately 2,570 children serving juvenile life sentences without parole in the U.S. — the only country that allows this cruel punishment to happen.

Just last week, the ACLU, along with other human rights organizations, sent a letter to the CERD Committee, urging them to conclude that the imposition of this sentence violates the treaty obligations of the United States and fails to recognize customary international human rights law.

Young people are still developing mentally and emotionally. Their punishment needs to be focused on rehabilitation and reintegration into society. Offering a parole option to young people provides a second chance — this is in our society’s best interest.

We’ve made some progress — currently Alaska, Colorado, Kansas, Kentucky, New Mexico, Oregon and the District of Columbia forbid juvenile life sentences without parole. But we have a long way to go, and we have no time to waste.

It’s time for a change. Our youth deserve fair sentencing, and the opportunity for rehabilitation.

You can watch the hearing online and learn more about the ACLU’s work on ending juvenile life without parole at: www.aclu.org/juvenilelifewithoutparole.