Important changes may be ahead for juvenile offenders convicted of murder in the state of Iowa. The Iowa Supreme Court will decide whether sentences of life in prison, without the possibility of parole, for juvenile offenders falls under the category of cruel and unusual punishment under the state’s constitution, thus prohibiting such practices. The case…

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By Christopher Zoukis

The British government scored a popular victory against the European Court of Human Rights last month, when the British Court of Appeals ruled “whole-life” prison sentences legal.

The legality of such sentences, intended for the most heinous murders, has been in dispute since July 2013, when the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights decided, in the Vinter case, that “whole-life” sentences without hope or possibility of release, contravene Article 3 of the convention, which prohibits “inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment.”

The sentencing of a number of convicted murders has been on hold ever since, pending review by the British Court of Appeal, including those of Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebwale, who were found guilty of brutally murdering British soldier Lee Rigby on a South London street in May 2013.

On February 18, 2014, the Court of Appeal rejected the European Court of Human Rights’ decision, arguing that Section 30 of the Crimes (Sentences) Act of 1997 allows a life-sentence prisoner to appeal to the Home Secretary, under exceptional circumstances, for release on compassionate grounds, thus providing the hope or possibility of release required by the Court of Human Rights, and confirming the legality of “whole-life” sentences.

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By Prison Law Blog

An overwhelming majority of prisoners serving life
sentences without parole for crimes committed as juveniles were exposed to
domestic violence and lived in poverty, while significant numbers failed in
school, were influenced by friends in trouble with the law and grew up in a
home missing at least one parent who was incarcerated, according to a report by
The Sentencing Project.

The report, based on the most comprehensive survey to
date of prisoners serving life sentences for crimes they committed as
juveniles, calls for the elimination of life without parole (LWOP) sentences
for juvenile offenders. The report also recommends a closer inspection of the
racial dynamics of the juvenile justice system, which imposes LWOP sentences on
black youths at an alarmingly higher rate than on white youths.

“Juveniles serving life sentences have had their
lives defined by a serious crime committed in their youth, but it is not a
complete picture of who they are,” wrote Ashley Nellis, Ph.D., a research
analyst for The Sentencing Project and the report’s author.

“Although it does not excuse their crimes,”
she added, “most people sent to prison for life as youth were failed by
systems that are intended to protect children.”

Researchers for The Sentencing Project collected data
from 1,579 juvenile lifers across the United States between October 2010 and
August 2011. The average time served by the prisoners surveyed was 15 years,
and almost a fourth had been incarcerated at least 21 years.

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