About 450 people in Pennsylvania are serving life sentences without the possibility of parole for crimes they committed when they were younger than 18. Several community groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in Pennsylvania are fighting to change the law, and allow for more flexibility for these kids.
"It doesn't make sense to say that a child is absolutely never going to be rehabilitated, is never going to be in a position to make better decisions throughout their entire life," says ACLU Community Organizer Ngani Ndimbie, "that's a very heavy thing to say about a 13, 14 15 year old, 16,17 18 year old."
The group would at least like to see juveniles convicted of serious crimes get a shot at parole at some point in their sentences.
"It's so strange, we don't really treat children as adults in many other ways. I think we have a lot of other laws and policies that are based on the idea that children don't reason as well and can't make decisions as well as adults, then we have this policy that does the opposite," said Ndimbie.
Plus, she said, kids often act impulsively and don't think about the consequences of their action, thereby making life without parole ineffective as a deterrent. The list of crimes that can result in life without parole for a juvenile go beyond homicide. Currently, the ACLU along with the Black Political Empowerment Project (B-PEP) and Fight for Lifers are trying to raise awareness on the issue.
Further action is on hold pending the outcome of two cases in the U.S. Supreme Court. Later this month, oral arguments will be heard on the cases which question the constitutionality of life without parole sentences for juveniles, a decision is expected in the fall.