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Report: Emphasis Should be on Age in Parole Decisions

When parole boards consider a crime, they don't always take into account the offender's age when it was committed. (Michael Coghlan/Flickr)
When parole boards consider a crime, they don't always take into account the offender's age when it was committed. (Michael Coghlan/Flickr)
December 1, 2016

MINNEAPOLIS -- U.S. Supreme Court rulings have made it possible for prisoners who were sentenced as juveniles to life without parole to be eligible for release from prison. But a new report says very few are being granted parole.

A national report from the ACLU, called "False Hope," found that across the country, parole boards rarely consider a person's age at the time of an offense when evaluating applications for parole.

According to Sarah Mehta, a human rights researcher at the ACLU and the author of the report, parole boards often have thousands of cases to decide, and are therefore frequently only concerned with the circumstances of 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,” Mehta explained.

The report said that 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 generally "age out" of criminal activity, no matter how serious their offenses. But, Mehta said, those who were sentenced as teenagers may still spend decades behind bars - even if they are 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,” she said; "despite what the Supreme Court has said."

Failure to grant parole has become a racial justice issue as well. Across the country, Mehta said, people of color are far more likely to be given long sentences.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - MN