US Under Fire For Being The Only Nation To Incarcerate Juveniles To Life In Prison Without Parole


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In a report published by the United Nations last week, Juan Méndez, the UN expert on torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment criticised the US for being the only country to imprison kids to life in prison without the possibility of release. No other country currently imposes the sentence on people under 18 years old.

The UN have stated that “Detention is inextricably linked with ill-treatment, children must be protected”. You can read the full report here. So why does the US continue with this practice?

You can see a summary of Méndez’s reports below:

He has been clear in the guidelines:

  • Detention of children should be used only for the shortest possible period of time, only if it is in the best interest of the child, and limited to exceptional cases.
  • States should adopt alternatives to detention for children whenever possible.
  • Minimum age of criminal responsibility must be no lower than 12 years old and be progressively raised
  • No life sentences without parole for children (and even lengthy sentences can be grossly disproportionate and amount to ill-treatment).
  • No use of restraints for children deprived of their liberty under any circumstance.
  • No solitary confinement for children deprived of their liberty.
  • No death penalty for children deprived of their liberty.
  • No corporal punishment for children deprived of their liberty.
  • No immigration detention (detention of children based on migration status is never in the best interests of child, is grossly disproportionate, and constitutes ill-treatment).
  • Special attention should be paid to children deprived of their liberty in health- and social-care

International and indeed US law recognise that a sentence of life in prison without parole is particularly unfair when applied to juveniles. “Life sentences or sentences of an extreme length have a disproportionate impact on children and cause physical and psychological harm that amounts to cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment,” Méndez reported.Corporal-Punishment

Examples of Cases

You can find examples of cases on the Bloomberg Law site. Here it is considered that life-without-parole sentences for juveniles can be likened to the death penalty (Graham v. Florida,). By likening life-without-parole sentences for juveniles to the death penalty, the defence makes relevant this Court’s cases demanding individualized sentencing in capital cases. In particular, those cases have emphasized that sentencers must be able to consider the mitigating qualities of youth. In light of Graham’s reasoning, these decisions also show the flaws of imposing mandatory life-without-parole sentences on juvenile homicide offenders.

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  1. Thank you for sharing this. It is an atrocity that we treat children this way. I had no idea. It’s the parents of those children who need to be in prison. The children need lots of help, not prison.

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