Despite Review Mandate, Most Juvenile Lifers Sit and Wait

The U.S. Supreme Court said states must review the rehabilitation progress of juvenile lifers. But an AP investigation shows the process has bogged down in many states.

Prison gates have not swung open for the more than 2,000 people sentenced to life without parole as juveniles, whose cases were mandated for review by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year. The Associated Press reports that uncertainty and opposition stirred by the new mandate have resulted in an uneven patchwork of policies as courts and lawmakers wrestle with these complicated, painful cases. The odds of release or continued imprisonment vary from state to state, even county to county, in a pattern that can make justice seem arbitrary.

The court ruled that juvenile lifers must get a chance to show their crimes did not reflect “irreparable corruption” and, if not, have some hope for freedom. The AP surveyed all 50 states to see how judges and prosecutors, lawmakers and parole boards are re-examining the case. Some have resentenced and released dozens of those deemed to have rehabilitated themselves and served sufficient time. Others have delayed review of cases, skirted the ruling on seeming technicalities or fought to keep the vast majority of their affected inmates locked up for life. Many victims’ relatives are also battling to keep these offenders in prison.