Kids in the Adult System
While Louisiana has made great strides in reforming its juvenile justice system, it has not made comparable strides at reducing the number of youth transferred as adults. The 2005 Human Rights Watch report, “The Rest of their Lives: Life without Parole for Child Offenders in the United States,” documented that Louisiana has the highest rate of children serving life without parole sentences in the entire country. Louisiana not only has the highest rate of juvenile life without parole (JLWOP), but is virtually off the chart with a rate twice that of the nearest state. While 25 states have 10 or fewer youth serving life sentences, Louisiana has well over 300.
JJPL is committed to the abolition of life without parole for all juveniles. By working with the Louisiana state legislature, JJPL has made significant progress on ending JLWOP by helping bring Louisiana into compliance with the Supreme Court decisions in Graham v. Florida and in Miller v. Alabama. In Graham, the Supreme Court found JLWOP sentences for crimes other than murder unconstitutional. In the Miller decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the sentence of mandatory life without parole for juveniles convicted of homicide is unconstitutional. Due in part to JJPL’s efforts, Louisiana is now compliant with both rulings.
In 2008, JJPL began partnering with Citizens for Second Chances (CFSC) to end the practice of incarcerating juveniles to life without parole. CFSC is a group of family members dedicated to giving hope to youth incarcerated for life by abolishing JLWOP in Louisiana. CFSC was catalyzed after the mother of a youth serving forty years in prison was able to obtain sponsorship of a bill during the 2006 Louisiana legislative session that would have provided for parole eligibility to juveniles serving virtual life or life without the possibility of parole. The 2006 bill failed passage. However, outreach efforts in Angola State Penitentiary, where most juveniles serving life without parole are held, brought together approximately thirty family members of these prisoners to work together on this issue. By the legislative session of 2007, CFSC had grown to include over 100 members. Currently, CFSC’s mailing list includes over 350 family members of individuals serving JLWOP. CFSC work is structured through a tiered system in which members volunteer as regional captains to disseminate information to families statewide.
Louisiana is in a unique and particularly opportune position for reform. In the area of juvenile justice, the state has taken huge strides forward, and political leaders have affirmed their commitment to a reformed and fair justice system for youth. While we have made significant strides in building support for the end of life without parole for children, coalition building and the expansion of CFSC in recent years, Graham v Florida presents even greater opportunity; to secure immediate relief for a number of individuals currently serving the sentence, and to broaden support for its end as a sentence overall.
For more information please contact Mummi Ibrahim.