The Supreme Court ruling on Monday barring life sentences without parole for juvenile offenders offers minors another chance at life, said a prison ministry.
In a five to four vote, the high court ruled that sentencing juvenile offenders to life imprisonment without parole for crimes other than murder violated the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment in the Eight Amendment.
“The high court’s historic decision is consistent with a long tradition of American jurisprudence that says young teenage offenders who have not committed homicide should be treated differently than adults,” said Mark Earley, Prison Fellowship president and former Virginia attorney general.
Earley, who heads the world’s largest outreach to prisoners, ex-prisoners and their families, added that the young offenders have a long life ahead of them and “there is a good chance they can turn their lives around.”
“[W]e don’t want to rob them of hope of a better life,” he said.
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority and made the case that a life sentence without parole for a juvenile “is not appropriate” given the offender’s capacity to change. Kennedy was joined by the court’s liberal justices: John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor.
The ruling was for the case of Terrance Jamar Graham, who was convicted of robbery at the age of 16. After a short prison term he was released, but was arrested again at 17 for an armed home-invasion robbery. The judge sentenced him to life in prison.
Six of the nine justices ruled that the sentence was unconstitutional. But only five of them supported the new rule that banned life sentences without parole for juveniles.
Kennedy said the court is not required to release a juvenile offender, but to provide an opportunity for the person to gain possible release.
“Everyone is capable of changing for the better, in particular juveniles,” said Earley. “Today’s Supreme Court decision gives young teenage offenders at least a chance to be rehabilitated and go on to live productive lives, rather than to be locked up forever.”
The United States was the only nation in the world that sentenced juveniles to a lifetime in prison without the chance of parole for crimes other than murder.