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Report Shows Parole Boards Rarely Consider Youth

People of color are more likely to get long sentences for juvenile offenses. (ErikaWittlieb/pixabay.com)
People of color are more likely to get long sentences for juvenile offenses. (ErikaWittlieb/pixabay.com)
November 30, 2016

HARRISBURG, Pa. – U.S. Supreme Court rulings have made prisoners sentenced to life without parole as juveniles eligible for release, but a new report said very few are being granted parole. "False Hope," a national report from the ACLU, found that across the country parole boards rarely consider the age at the time of the offense in denying applications for parole.

According to Sarah Mehta, human rights researcher at the ACLU and author of the report, with thousands of cases to decide, often the only thing a parole board considers is the original crime.

"That's often the only thing they have a chance to see, and not all the extensive rehabilitation, letters of support, low-risk analysis and the other factors that are really important," she said.

The report said even in states that have full parole hearings, parole is granted to fewer than 20 percent of prisoners serving life sentences.

The failure to grant parole becomes a racial justice issue as well. Nationally, Mehta said, people of color are far more likely to be given life sentences. For example, every person sentenced to juvenile life-without-parole in Texas was a person of color.

"People in Pennsylvania who are serving sentences of 40 to 50 years who were juveniles at the time of their crime, 80 percent of them were black."

Among Pennsylvania prisoners serving sentences of 50 years or more who were 18 to 25 at the time of their offense, 73-percent are black.

Studies have shown that people "age out" of criminal activity, no matter how serious the offense. Mehta pointed out that, without parole reform, those sentenced as teenagers may spend decades behind bars regardless of their growth and development.

"For parole boards, there hasn't been the political support to release people who are doing well now, if they committed a serious offense 30, 40, 50 years ago, despite what the Supreme Court has said," she added.

Mehta said parole boards need to be able to consider all factors, including the age at the time a crime was committed to fairly assess applications for parole.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - PA