A new study by The Sentencing Project pointed out serious racial disparities in the way black juveniles are treated within the justice system.
According to the study, which surveyed 1,500 juveniles between 13-17 sentenced to life without parole, 60-percent of all juveniles serving a life sentence are black and 97 percent are male. Moreover, the proportion of black juveniles sentenced to life without parole for killing a white person is much higher than that of white juveniles who kill blacks.
The study also found:
•Most juvenile life sentences are given in states where judges have to impose mandatory sentences without considering any factors such as age or life circumstances.
•The vast majority of juveniles sentenced to life comes from violent homes, and nearly half (particularly girls sentenced to life) had experienced physical abuse.
• 40% of all juvenile lifers had been in special education classes, and less than half had been in school when they committed their crimes.
• More than a quarter of juvenile lifers had a parent in prison, and 60 percent had close relatives in prison.
These findings come just weeks before the Supreme Court hears arguments about the constitutionality of sentencing juveniles convicted of homicide to life without parole. Currently, 33 states have such laws, and juvenile justice activists are hopeful the court will find these punishments unusually harsh and biased against minority and/or low income teens.
The cases before the court involve two juveniles sentenced to life without parole when they were just 14. According to news site Miller Mccune magazine, “One was convicted under mandatory guidelines, the other was present but did not pull the trigger in a murder.”
This study, the largest ever conducted about juvenile lifers, sheds light on what many already know about our justice system: it is overwhelmingly biased against those who have the least resources available to protect themselves.
Is sentencing juveniles to life without parole too harsh? Should they be subject to other punishments? Sound off!