Juvenile Life Without Parole Sentences Should Not Exist
In 1995, Sara Kruzan was sentenced to life in prison without parole for killing her pimp, who had forced her to become a sex worker at the tender age of 13. When she killed him, she was only 16, and she was 17 when she received her harsh sentence. Fortunately, her sentence was reduced in 2011, and she was finally offered parole and released in 2013, after having served 19 years.
While Kruzan rightfully received clemency, this hasn’t been the case for thousands of juveniles currently serving life sentences without parole in the United States. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, nearly 2,300 individuals in the U.S. are currently serving life without parole for sentences they received when they were under the age of 18.
In a global context, the U.S. is somewhat unique in its application of life without parole sentences. Between 1992 and 2016, the number of these sentences in the U.S. skyrocketed by 328%.
Although life without parole sentences are legal in 65 countries, according to the Juvenile Law Center, “the United States is the only country in the world that permits youth to be sentenced to life without parole.”
Most European countries have banned life without parole sentences altogether, and international law has denounced juvenile life without parole sentences as cruel and degrading. As article 37 of the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states, “neither capital punishment nor life imprisonment without possibility of release shall be imposed for offences committed by persons below eighteen years of age.”
In spite of the normalization of harsh sentences in the U.S., human rights advocates have fought to reform what they perceive as a “barbaric” and unjust system. As a result, over the past 15 years several U.S. Supreme Court decisions have sought to rein in the imposition of harsh sentences on offenders below the age of 18. In 2005, the Court’s decision in Roper v. Simmons prohibited the juvenile death penalty.
In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Graham v. Florida that imposing life sentences without parole on youths who had committed non-homicidal offenses was…