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Parole Often Denied for Those Imprisoned as Youth

Conn. is starting to consider age at the time of the offense in parole hearings.  (Dieter_G/
Conn. is starting to consider age at the time of the offense in parole hearings. (Dieter_G/
November 30, 2016

HARTFORD, Conn. - 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 evaluating 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 says even in states that have full parole hearings, parole is granted to fewer than 20 percent of prisoners serving life sentences.

Studies have shown that people "age out" of criminal activity, no matter how serious the offense. Mehta added that for prisoners sentenced as teenagers, that can mean decades behind bars, even for those considered model prisoners.

"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 explained.

The failure to grant parole becomes a racial justice issue as well. Nationally, Mehta says, people of color are far more likely to be given long sentences.

Last year in Connecticut, more than 60 percent of those serving sentences of 50 years or more for offenses committed as juveniles were Black. But Mehta noted that Connecticut is making an effort to include reforms that consider age at the time of the offense.

"So we're hopeful that some of the hearings may see those individuals getting released because the parole board and the state in general have made more of an effort to pay attention to the parole process for people who were young," she added.

Mehta says 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 - CT