Growing Up in Prison: The Future of Juvenile Life Sentences in America

Three Students

Tuesday, April 23, 7-9pm
ICC Auditorium

In conjunction with Georgetown’s MLK Initiative, the Prisons and Justice Initiative was honored to host an important and timely panel discussion about juvenile life sentences. 

The event spanned both the national and local dimensions of this crucial issue. Nationally, the Supreme Court has recently pushed states to reconsider the practice of sentencing people to live and ultimately die in prison for crimes they committed as juveniles. Brain scientists have shown that children—and even people under 25—have unformed pre-frontal cortexes, poor impulse control, high susceptibility to peer pressure, and make decisions without considering the consequences. Criminologists have demonstrated that most people “age out” of crime and no longer represent a threat to others once they enter their 30s and 40s. Do “juvenile lifers” deserve a second chance to return to society, atone for their past mistakes, and become productive citizens?

Locally, the DC Comprehensive Youth Justice Amendment Act and the Incarceration Reduction Amendment Act have resulted in recent and ongoing releases of people who were sentenced to life as juveniles, as long as they have served 20 years and demonstrated transformation such that they no longer pose a threat to public safety. Several juvenile lifers have been released over the past year, with many more slated to come home in the coming months and years.

Our panelists consisted of an academic expert on juvenile life sentences, a corrections practitioner who works with this population on a regular basis, a policy leader who advocates for reform, a recently released juvenile lifer, and a (then) incarcerated juvenile lifer who has been released since this event.