New Research Uncovers Dozens of 13- And 14-Year-Old Children Sentenced To Life Imprisonment Without the Possibility Of Parole; First-Ever Study of Youngest Children Condemned to Die in Prison Finds Mandatory Sentencing Forced Judges in Majority of Cases to Impose Harshest Sentence Without Considering Child s Age or Background
Bryan Stevenson 334.269.1803 firstname.lastname@example.org
New Research Uncovers Dozens of 13- And 14-Year-Old Children Sentenced To Life Imprisonment Without the Possibility Of Parole
First-Ever Study of Youngest Children Condemned to Die in Prison Finds Mandatory Sentencing Forced Judges in Majority of Cases to Impose Harshest Sentence Without Considering Childs Age or Background
Seventy-three children in the United States have been sentenced to life imprisonment without any chance for parole despite being only 13 or 14 at the time of the crime, according to a newly published study by the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI). EJI is a nonprofit legal research and advocacy group based in Montgomery, Ala. and New York City.
These 73 children were tried as adults and condemned to die in adult prisons. EJIs study found that the majority were accomplices to adults or older teens who were more culpable for the crime. In seven (about 10 percent) of these cases, the offense did not result in anyones death; in one case, no one was even injured. Nearly two-thirds of these 73 children are kids of color and many were victims of severe abuse and neglect.
Yet mandatory sentencing schemes forced judges in most of these cases to impose the harshest available sentence without consideration for the childs age or background or the circumstances of the offense. This is an unintended and disastrous consequence of prosecuting children as adults: children too young to drive, or even see a scary movie by themselves, are being sentenced to die in adult prisons, said Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of EJI and clinical professor at New York Universitys School of Law.
The United States is the only country in the world where a 13- or 14-year-old is known to be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. In fact, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified by every country in the world except the U.S. and Somalia, forbids life without parole sentences for children. EJI contends that these sentences for the youngest children violate the United States Constitution and has filed legal challenges on behalf of condemned children in states across the country. Condemning 13- and 14-year-olds to die in prison ignores new research on early adolescence which reveals that kids this age tend to be impulsive and less able to gauge consequences and resist peer pressure, says Stevenson. It also ignores a childs capacity for change.
In the 1990s, tough-on-crime politicians led states to lower the age at which children could be prosecuted and sentenced as adults, which dramatically increased the number of younger kids sentenced to adult prisons. 2,225 teens who were 17 or younger have been sentenced to die in prison in the U.S. Cruel and Unusual is the first national study focusing on the youngest of these children. A team of EJI attorneys spent 18 months collecting data from corrections departments in every state, pouring over thousands of court documents, studies, and articles, and interviewing dozens of juvenile justice scholars and practitioners throughout the country.
EJI uncovered 73 cases in 19 states where children 13 or 14 at the time of the offense were sentenced to die in prison. In six states Florida, Illinois, Nebraska, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Washington children were sentenced to death in prison for offenses that occurred when they were 13, making them the youngest offenders in the world to be sentenced to imprisonment until death. All 73 are now adults; the youngest is 18. Pennsylvania leads the nation in sentencing young children to die in prison, with 18 condemned for crimes when they were 13 or 14, followed by Florida, with 15.
Nearly all had woefully inadequate legal counsel. The majority of these kids could have avoided these sentences with better legal representation at trial, says Stevenson, noting that EJI researchers discovered that many of the court-appointed lawyers had never filed post-conviction appeals or challenged the legality of death-in-prison sentences for 13- and 14-year-old children.
Ian Manuel, for instance, was told by his attorney that he would receive a 15-year sentence if he plead guilty to committing an aggravated robbery that occurred in Florida when he was just 13. Ian pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life imprisonment with no chance of parole. His attorney did not appeal or withdraw the plea. Now 30, Ian remains condemned to die in a Florida prison.
EJIs ultimate goal is for the courts to abolish death-in-prison sentences for 13-and 14-year-old children. While EJI opposes life imprisonment without parole sentences for older teens as well, the legal advocacy group is focusing its efforts on the youngest adolescents because imposing the harshest sentence on the youngest kids most dramatically reveals cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution and international law.