There are over 100 people in the world serving sentences of life without parole for crimes they committed as juveniles in which no one was killed.
All of them are in the United States.
As of last week you can subtract one person from that total, and probably many more in the next few months, as the United States Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 vote that juveniles who commit crimes in which no one is killed may not be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
I didn’t realize our justice system allowed for juveniles to be sentenced to life without parole, or one could say life without hope, in this manner. It seems barbaric to me that we would put a 16-year old in prison for life for committing two armed burglaries, which is what happened in this particular case. When the juvenile committed the second burglary while on probation for the first crime, the judge sentenced him to life without parole.
We have a ban on cruel and usual punishment in the United States–the Eighth Amendment. Five judges agreed that this amendment should forbid life without parole sentences for juvenile offenders who do not participate in homicides.
My biggest difficulty is in understanding that there are four judges on our Supreme Court who voted against that rationale.
And it just makes me pay all the more attention to the nominee who will be the next judge to serve.
Emily Hansen is director for stewardship and development, Women of the ELCA.