UNITED STATES: Campaign Against Inhuman Sentencing of Children

Children in the United States may lawfully be sentenced to imprisonment for life with and without the possibility of release.

    Advocacy Initiatives / Achievements / Resources / Multimedia / Contacts


    Advocacy Initiatives

  1. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), End Juvenile Life Without Parole
  2. As a part of its ongoing juvenile justice project, the ACLU has heavily lobbied state and federal legislatures for sentencing reform and mounted individual challenges to juvenile life sentences without parole imposed in state courts.

    Among other things, the ACLU has released a report on juveniles serving sentences of life imprisonment without parole in Michigan. 


    The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth is working to end the practice of sentencing youth to die in prison without hope of release. The campaign aims at building a national coalition, giving advice on how to draft and push for legislation, and raising awareness across the country.

    The Campaign's website contains a section for the latest news related to sentencing youth to life without parole, and also provides details on the distribution by state of 2,570 juvenile offenders serving sentences of juvenile life without parole (JLWOP).


    The Equal Justice Initiative runs a legal advocacy campaign to challenge sentences of life imprisonment without parole imposed on young children, and is also working to build public support for legislative reform on the issue.

    EJI argues that young children continue to be sentenced to die in prison with very little scrutiny or review, and has documented 73 cases where children 14 years of age or younger have been condemned to die in prison. Almost all of these children currently lack legal representation, and in most of these cases, the propriety and constitutionality of their extreme sentences has never been reviewed. Read More


    Human Rights Advocates produces in-depth studies to aid in the fight against JLWOP, and submitted an alternative report to the Human Rights Council on the subject as part of the Universal Periodic Review process. 


    As part of its Juvenile Justice programme, the Juvenile Law Center advocates before courts and legislatures to end the policy and practice of sentencing juveniles to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

    The Juvenile Law Center also served as lead counsel for over 65 advocacy organizations and individuals to submit a friend-of-the-court brief in Graham v. Florida, the U.S. Supreme Court case that abolished these sentences for juveniles convicted of non-homicide offences.


    Human Rights Watch works to eliminate sentences of life imprisonment without parole for juvenile offenders. In 2008, Human Rights Watch reported a number of findings that illustrate the troublesome nature of the sentence and how it is applied to children.


    As a part of its advocacy campaign for sentencing law and practice reform, the Sentencing Project published a report on the rising use of life sentences in the United States in general and as imposed on juveniles.


    The School has, among other things, published a report detailing the availability and use of juvenile life imprisonment without parole sentences around the world and in the United States.



    • U.S. Supreme Court Litigation

    In Graham v. Florida, the Supreme Court ruled that sentences of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole imposed on juveniles convicted of non-homicide offenses are unconstitutional.


    Graham v. Florida Supreme Court Opinion, 5/17/10

    CRIN Materials:

    Case summary

    Editorial: Supreme Court limits use of life without parole sentences for children in conflict with the law


    Juvenile Law Center Brief

    Briefs by the Parties

    Other Amicus Briefs

    Press Release:

    Juvenile Law Center Applauds U.S. Supreme Court Decision: Juvenile Life Without Parole is Cruel and Unusual

    • Pending State and Federal Court Litigation

    In the wake of the Graham decision, a number of legal challenges have been mounted in lower state and federal courts to declare all sentences of juvenile life imprisonment without parole to be unconstitutional, regardless of the nature of the underlying offence. See the full inhuman sentencing report for further details.


    • Colorado Legislation

    Colorado abolished sentences of juvenile life imprisonment without parole in 2006, although the law was not applied retroactively.  

    Legislation Passed:

    Colorado House Bill 06-1315


    • Texas Legislation

    Texas abolished sentences of juvenile life imprisonment without parole in 2009 for all offenders under age 17 at the time of the offence.  

    Legislation Passed:

    Texas Senate Bill 839


    • Proposed Legislation

    In recent years, legislation has been proposed to abolish juvenile life without parole sentences on the federal level and in a number of states including California, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, and Washington.  See the full inhuman sentencing report for further details.









    Are you working on this issue? Contact CRIN at info@crin.org






      pdf: www.crin.org/violence/campaigns/sentencing/



      Please note that these reports are hosted by CRIN as a resource for Child Rights campaigners, researchers and other interested parties. Unless otherwise stated, they are not the work of CRIN and their inclusion in our database does not necessarily signify endorsement or agreement with their content by CRIN.