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Supreme Court Gives Second Chances to Juveniles Sentenced to Life

A U.S. Supreme Court decision grants parole or re-sentencing hearings to people sentenced to life in prison without parole when they were juveniles. (Kconnors/morguefile)
A U.S. Supreme Court decision grants parole or re-sentencing hearings to people sentenced to life in prison without parole when they were juveniles. (Kconnors/morguefile)
January 26, 2016

HARRISBURG, Pa. - A U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Monday is expected to bring relief to thousands of people serving life sentences in prison for crimes they committed as children.

The high court made retroactive a 2012 ruling that banned mandatory life sentences without parole for juveniles, clearing the way for people to ask to be re-sentenced or get a parole hearing.

"Justice (Anthony) Kennedy stressed that the decision to impose life without parole should be almost never invoked," said Marsha Levick, deputy director and chief counsel at the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia and co-counsel on the current Supreme Court case, Montgomery vs. Alabama. "They should be able to contemplate the possibility of a life on the outside again."

After the 2012 Supreme Court ruling, Pennsylvania had refused to apply the decision to older sentences. So, this ruling gives new hope to about 500 people behind bars in the Keystone State.

Nate Balis, director of the Annie E. Casey Foundation's juvenile-justice strategy group, applauded the decision, saying it is inhumane to sentence someone younger than 18 to die in prison.

"The adolescent brain doesn't fully develop until the mid-20s," he said. "Young people ought to be treated as youth who are still changing and who are capable of changing, which means it should be about their development and not about punishment."

Meanwhile on Monday, President Obama announced a series of criminal-justice reforms he plans to take through executive action, including a ban on the use of solitary confinement for juveniles in federal facilities.

The high court's ruling is online at supremecourt.gov.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - PA