American Judges Association


Date of this Version



Court Review, Volume 49, Issue 1 (2013)


Copyright American Judges Association. Used by permission.


In the 1980s and 1990s, nearly every state enacted legislative changes that eased the process of treating juveniles as adults. Scholars seeking to understand the consequences of these changes have found evidence of an increase in the number of juveniles transferred to criminal court and sentenced as adults. As part of this increase, the number of juveniles receiving sentences of life without the opportunity for parole (LWOP) rose substantially. In fact, a large majority of the approximately 2,600 individuals serving LWOP sentences for crimes committed as juveniles (under age 18) were sentenced over the last several decades. LWOP sentences for juveniles, which preclude the possibility of release at any point except through clemency or a pardon, have drawn a considerable amount of criticism and have been the focus of a great deal of litigation and policy-reform efforts. Responding to this criticism, the United States Supreme Court issued two decisions over the last few years limiting the extent to which juveniles can receive LWOP sentences, Graham v. Florida1 and Miller v. Alabama.2 Despite these decisions, numerous questions remain regarding the appropriate and allowable levels of punishment for young offenders that courts and legislatures will continue to grapple with for the foreseeable future.