NAACP Statement on Supreme Court Ruling on Life Without Parole for Juvenile Offenders

The NAACP released the following statement on today’s decision by the Supreme Court of the United States to ban mandatory sentences of life in prison without parole for juveniles:

“This is a big step forward for the American justice system,” said Benjamin Todd Jealous, President and CEO of the NAACP. “When it comes to juveniles, life sentences without possibility of parole indeed constitute cruel and unusual punishment. Judicial discretion is extremely important in these cases, but the NAACP will continue to fight until the sentences are banned outright.”

Today the high court struck down laws in 29 states that mandated a life term for murderers, including those under age 18. While the Court did not categorically ban juvenile life without parole in all circumstances, Justice Kagan wrote for the majority that, “given all that we have said in Roper, Graham, and this decision about children’s diminished culpability, and heightened capacity for change, we think appropriate occasions for sentencing juveniles to this harshest possible penalty will be uncommon.”

Racial disparities remain extremely pronounced in the Juvenile Justice system. African American children are 10 times more likely than their white peers to be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole

“We remain concerned that racial disparities will continue to be evident as courts exercise discretion in making this assessment,” said Jealous. “If past sentencing is any guide, this most severe sentence may remain all too common for children of color.”

In 2005, the Court banned the death penalty for juveniles who commit aggravated murder. Then, in 2010, the justices held that juveniles found guilty of non-homicides could not receive life without parole.

Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization. Its members throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities, conducting voter mobilization and monitoring equal opportunity in the public and private sectors.

< View All Press Releases