Juvenile Murder Convictions Regarding Life Sentences


Why does the constitution have the provision of imprisonment of individuals? The Justice Kennedy Commission was appointed by the American Bar Association to investigate reasons for incarceration and the variety of sentencing the US Government Provides. The goals of incarceration were supposedly found to include, rehabilitation deterrence, punishment, as well as protection of the individual, though by retaining the Life without Parole Sentences, the justice system casts aside a rehabilitative goal for children that were imprisoned. Life without Parole is an acceptable sentence for a variety of crimes committed by youth in 42 states of America. Since 2009, there were still about 2600 juveniles carrying life sentences without parole (Aragon, 2012). There is nowhere else on the globe where youth are sentenced to this term.


The UN convention typically prohibits incarcerations of children for life terms, but the United States, along with Somalia are only countries that have yet to incorporate that convention into their constitution. It should be laughable which countries America is being compared to in this sentence. Unfortunately, the US was the only country to vote against a UN resolution in 2006, calling for the abolition of life without parole sentence for teenagers and young offenders (Aragon, 2012). However, there are a small number of states; nonetheless that have laws in their systems that allow for the theoretic imprisonment of children for life terms.

On the other hand, America is the only country that has seen this happen and truly has minors in its prison system that is carrying out prison terms. As of the year 2004, there were at least 2225 offenders that were serving life sentences without parole in the US system. The absence of a national database on tracking the presence of child offenders in prisons prompted the human rights watch and Amnesty International to compile the figure from the data. It was obtained individually from the state department of corrections and other sources as figures include youth offenders from 40 of the 42 states where young offenders might be sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.

Statistics and Crime Categorizations for LWP (Life without Parole Cases) Cases

Homicide: murder, felony murder, felony homicide, murder by child abuse, man slaughter, and capital felony (all of which have degrees)
Other violent crimes: attempted murder, assault, battery carjacking, use of weapons or fire-arms (all of which have degrees)
Kidnapping: kidnapping (all of which have degrees)
Sex crimes: rape, child molestation, and sexual battery (all of which have degrees)
Property crimes: burglary, grand larceny (all of which have degrees)


Life without Parole sentences issued in America resultant from a variety of crimes. There are general categories, which are then, specified into instances shown in the figure above: (Parker, 2005)

Despite the vast categorization of possible crimes for life without parole, 93 percent of convictions for juvenile offenders result from homicide cases (Parker, 2005). Most have the misconception that the sentence is truly reserved for the most heinous, and calculated of killers. As emphasized already, it is imposed upon teens that have participated in felonies such as robbery, where another criminal murdered someone without child offenders, and having the crime to take place. In some case it happens that the offender even does not know that the other criminal was armed.

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In some cases that examined by the amnesty International and the Human Rights Watch, many of the felony crimes were aimed robberies. These crimes contain a group of offenders where one participant was a grown up. Nevertheless, there is a lack amount of available data to define the nationwide numbers when it comes to people convicted of the felony murder and serving the life without parole.

The actual practice shows that America is indeed out of step with the rest of the world when it comes to regulations on life sentencing to juveniles. Research shows that only seven individuals outside the United States are currently serving their life terms for childhood crimes. This is compared to staggering thousand figures on the other end. Though, other countries have laws permitting the sentencing of life without parole, only ten have sentencing for those under the age of 18 (Parker, 2005). Somalia is probably the only other country that actively continues to use the sentence for those who are under the age of seventeen.

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The State of California as a Case Study

Take, for example, the situation in one of American states, like California. All but a handful of the youth sentenced to life without parole are boys. There were about 227 individuals sentenced from 1990 and 2007, of which five were girls. The fascinating thing is that the state law allows for young individuals from the age of 14 to be sentenced to life without parole for particular crimes. Most of the 227 group were between ages of 16 and 17 though at the time of sentencing (Meyer, 2008). A striking example is Billy G, seventeen at the time of his crime and sentencing.

This boy had never lived far away from home and had only held one job at a concessions stand by the time of his sentencing. He stated in an interview that he did not have any facial hair when he got into prison, but has now learnt to shave and become a man while being incarcerated. Most of those that are sentenced as a youth to life without parole share some striking characteristics. One would expect an individual showing the deep psychological instability or an incurable affinity for misdeeds and chaos.

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On the contrary, characteristics do not fit an irredeemable individual deserving to be separated from the community and family. Sometimes, one may find that the crime for which this youth receive sentencing of life without parole most often tussle with the law. A national study by the human rights watch and Amnesty Internal revealed that 59 percent of juvenile life without parole term being served, were by juvenile, first time offenders that had no juvenile or adult record. This does not take away from the fact that crimes incurring the life without parole are serious; many people that commit these crimes did not have a track record before they were sentenced to life without a chance of parole.

In nearly three out of four of the cases that Human Rights Watch investigated in the state of California, the youth convicts had strong ties to their families and communities, and this weighs heavily on the success of rehabilitation as a concept. However, at the time when they committed their crimes, it was reported that about 71 percent of them lived with at least one parent (Meyer, 2008). 11 percent were living with other relatives and 6 percent were living with people of no biological relation.

Another 6 percent were homeless, and 4 percent were living with friends, while 1.6 percent lived in foster care. For many of them, the family ties remained after their incarceration, where nearly 80 percent of those surveyed reported they received family visits while in prison. 52 percent of them stated they had visits ranging from several times in a year to as frequent as once a week (Meyer, 2008). Raymond M, a young offender in the same boat, claims that with the support system they have on the outside, they are the ones who can succeed.

The other factor that does not fit in the stereotype of young offenders in prison is that about two thirds of them had completed 10, 11 or 12 before the time of their arrests. Children at these stages are still growing up, both physically and mentally (Meyer, 2008). The way that they form their identities, make young offenders quite suitable candidates for reform. They are far more able than adults to learn new skills or find new values and embark on a law-abiding life. In this way, sentences passed by courts on the young offenders should take into account, both the gravity of the crime and the blameworthiness of the offender.


The question of culpability is the separating factor between the child and the adult (Aragon, 2012). Even if the child may commit acts as deadly and violent as those adults commit, their blameworthiness ought to be different by virtue of their immaturity. However, their punishment should correspond with that substantial difference. For the same reason that a juvenile would be considered less culpable for their crimes committed, it should be recognized that the each point of sentencing as a deterrence would be negated in the first place.

For instance, the juvenile cannot begin to comprehend repercussions of a lengthy prison sentence. Similarly, the possibility of a harsh prison sentence will not deter them due to their inability to perceive the seriousness of consequences of their actions on their lives. Not only are the young offenders immature and physically unable to make the informed or calculated decision, many of them are sorting a host of issues prior to their committing the crime. Most young offenders are likely to have passed through physical or sexual abuse as compared to the non-prison general population.

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