Juvenile life sentences

The Supreme Court on Monday narrowed the circumstances in which youths can be sentenced to life in prison, saying the crimes must involve murder. The case involved a defendant, Terrance Graham, who was sentenced to life in prison after a robbery conviction at age 16 and a home invasion at age 17 that violated his parole.

While many legal advocacy groups have hailed the decision, some have warned that it might prompt a wave of appeals, clogging the legal system. Juvenile prisoners could see sentences which, while not life sentences, add up to decades in prison, and may be just as “cruel and unusual.”

Here are five things you need to know about the case, its context and its consequences:

  1. Graham v. Florida comes five years after another landmark Supreme Court decision regarding young offenders. In Roper v. Simmons, the Court ruled that the death penalty for juvenile offenders was unconstitutional. Justice Anthony Kennedy, considered the Court’s swing vote, sided with the majority and, in both cases, wrote the majority opinion.
  2. There are only eight states with young offenders serving life sentences for crimes that do not involve murder. Florida, where the Graham case originated, accounts for 70 percent of these inmates.
  3. A 2009 report by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International stated that 2,574 inmates currently sentenced to life without parole in the U.S. were minors when they committed their crimes.
  4. Although he sided with the majority in the specific case of Terrance Graham, Chief Justice John Roberts dissented from the majority opinion, which banned life without parole for all non-homicide youth offenders. Roberts wrote:

    Our existing precedent already provides a sufficient framework for assessing the concerns outlined by the majority. Not every juvenile receiving a life sentence will prevail under this approach. Not every juvenile should. But all will receive the protection that the Eighth Amendment requires.

  5. Equally troubling is the growing number of youth inmates who suffer from mental illness. Many states have cut mental health programs and depend on correctional facilities to provide meager treatment. The New York Times reported last year that two-thirds of the nation’s juvenile inmates have been diagnosed with at least one mental illness.
 

Comments

  • dismayed

    What appauls me is that juveniles who have been involved in crimes are not evaluated for abuses in the home environment or from other sources. Many times racism may be involved in making these decisions for youth in the juvenile justice system. It’s unfair to make decisions because of race, gender, socioeconomic class or any other unreliable source of information. This a human rights abuse. Not enough is done for the protection of youth around the world.

  • pensive

    About time. These youth often are raised in miserable circumstances by parents who don’t know how to parent, to say the least, and its an ongoing cycle. Mixed in with that is institutionalized racism and oppression. The prisons do not do an adequate job of parenting either. And the undeveloped youth are learning from all of this. How does it feel to have awesome power over children and how do you use that power? Does it make you feel being the bigger person?l

  • middling

    Prisons are not for parenting!. Also, we cannot make excuses for crimes committed directly against people. Violent offenders should lose their freedom for as long as the law allows.

  • MARIA

    I DO NOT AGREE WITH LIFE SENTENCE FOR A CHILD…TEENS ARE STILL CHILDREN LEARNING…AND IF THERE ARE PARENTS WHO FORCE THE LAW AT THE HOME…CHILDREN LEARN IT…ANOTHER THING…WHENEVER A CHILD SUBMITS THEIR SELF TO THIS KIND OF BEHAVIOR IT IS OFTEN THEY ARE CHILD ABUSED…OR DENIED OF THINGS THEY NEED SO THEY GET OUT TO MAKE QUICK MONEY…THEY SHOULD SERVE JAIL TIME BUT AS WELL THE PARENTS SHOULD SERVE PARENTING AND GET INVESTIGATED…CHILDREN ARE CHILDREN NOT ADULTS

  • steve hill

    I watched this program twice in a 24 hour period because I could not believe what I heard & saw. You portrayed Joe Sullivan as a victim of an unfair juvenile justice system. In the beginning of the piece you state that he was convicted of rape. You never mention the victim. Was it a man, a woman , or ,God forbid, a child ? Were they injured or beaten or harmed beyond the immense psychological damage that would result from such an attack ? You constantly portray Joe in a wheelchair, both in stills and video clips. Is the victim in a wheelchair? You say, after 21 years Joe still maintains his innocence. As I am sure Joe knows , you rarely get out of jail by saying ‘ I did it”.
    You guys are as bad as Fox. This is not journalism . This is advocacy. At one point, you had a close-up of your female reporter batting her eyes ,playing with her hair and smiling sweetly as she said “no pun intended”. This was to a clerk of a Supreme Court Justice . Unacceptable . Journalism 101 – D-.
    I intend to follow your show in the future . Thank you. At the very least , it was thought provoking . I saw it on channel 39 in the Lehigh Valley. Please do not send a pro forma response. However , something substantively would be interesting . You have my E-mail

  • anton

    To those who are dismayed , incited or just crawled out from under a rock , every court in the U.S. has (PSI) presentencing investigation reports on every person sentenced , that looks into their past , present and furture since 1900 . The prison is not a Daycare , if you have a child YOU should be responsible for raising and providing , love , education and a structured environment not the government or walfare . Note : before you pregnant take some parenting , financial, educational and social courses on child bearing and raising and the Bame Game.
    I am a Black Conservative and I think life in prison for teen crimes OTHER than murder is not fair . Almost half the children in major cities can be diagnosed with some mental illness from adht to anti-social behavior but that should not be the excuse to go far below the sentencing guideline , most children know they can’t be FULLY accountable for their crimes. Roper B & E ed a house , with a weapon, kidnapped the woman, drove to a bridge and dumped her in ,she died and 13 yo Sullivan then, first B & E ed a 72 yo womans home , second , returns with a knife beats and raped her , oh yes he is retarded . third, this ‘POSTER child for the Liberals’ has several conviction as a juvenile . If the Liberals have their way , that rat Lee Malvo won’t be executed.

  • anton

    i sent a post and it was not posted , why because it talked about liberals always blaming somebody and taking the responsibility away from the teen.

  • CURVYGIRL

    FIRST & FOREMOST, TEENS SHOULD NOT BE GIVEN A LIFE SENTENCE….ESPECIALLY IF WHEN THEY DID NOT COMMIT THE MURDER. WE HAVE A HUGE NUMBER OF TEENS WHO ARE LOCKED UP BECAUSE OF SOMEONE ELSE’S ACTIONS. THEY GIVE THESE CHILDREN “FELONY MURDER” WHAT AMERICA NEEDS TO DO IS ABOLISH THIS LAW. THIS IS CRUEL AND UNUSUAL PUNISHMENT!!!!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Will-Lee/1384133870 Will Lee

    Juvenile shouldn’t be given life sentences even if it is murder. They are only kids. They didn’t wake up to be homcidal maniacs one day. They lack parental guidance.
    While Prison may not be a daycare, Juvenile centers are. That is why Juveniles are not found “Guilty” they are found “delinquent”.