Intro :FINDINGS FROM A NATIONAL SURVEY
Life in prison without the possibility of parole gives no chance for fulfillment outside
prison walls, no chance for reconciliation with society, no hope. Maturity can lead to
that considered reflection which is the foundation for remorse, renewal, and
rehabilitation. A young person who knows that he or she has no chance to leave
prison before life’s end has little incentive to become a responsible individual.
Graham v. Florida, 2010
The United States stands alone worldwide in imposing sentences of life
without parole on juveniles.1 The U.S. achieved this unique position by
slowly and steadily dismantling founding principles of the juvenile justice
system. Today a record number of people are serving juvenile life without parole
(JLWOP) sentences in the U.S. for crimes committed before their 18th birthday.
Sentences of life without parole are often erroneously believed to translate to a
handful of years in prison followed by inevitable release. The reality is that a life
without parole sentence means that the individual will die in prison.
This report provides a new perspective on the population of individuals serving life
sentences without parole for crimes committed in their youth. It represents the
findings of a comprehensive investigation into this population that includes a firstever
national survey of juvenile lifers. Through this effort we obtained in-depth
information from these individuals about their life experiences prior to their
conviction, as well as descriptions of their lives while incarcerated. The findings are
sobering, and should become an element of policy discussion regarding this extreme
The sentencing project/research and advocacy for reform
For further information:
The Sentencing Project
1705 DeSales St., NW
Washington, D.C. 20036
This report was written by Ashley Nellis, Ph.D., Research Analyst at
The Sentencing Project. Extensive research assistance was
provided by Katherine Zafft and Cody Mason. The Sentencing
Project is immensely grateful to the survey respondents who
provided thoughtful and thorough responses to our questions and
who made this report possible.
Established in 1986, The Sentencing Project works for a fair and
effective U.S. criminal justice system by promoting reforms in
sentencing policy, addressing unjust racial disparities and practices,
and advocating for alternatives to incarceration.
The work of The Sentencing Project is supported by many individua