The U.S. Supreme Court decided today that life without parole for juveniles is, in non-homicide cases, cruel and unusual punishment. This is a significant step forward in juvenile justice that has been lauded by the Juvenile Law Center and other advocacy groups.
Thousands of cases nationwide are affected by this new decision.
But is life without parole an appropriate sentence in homicide cases for juveniles? In many cases, advocates argue, it deteriorates the intention of the juvenile justice system: rehabilitation. Although this case is a step toward restoring the focus of the juvenile justice system, there is still a significant road to travel.
The majority of youth convicted of major crimes show a history of abuse prior to their involvement with the system, and a shocking study in January 2010 showed that 12% of youth in custody were being sexually abused.
It is urgent that the juvenile justice system be reformed to reemphasize rehabilitation instead of punishment and to provide services to children who are acting out from abuse rather than punishment that perpetuates that abuse.