American Law Institute Model Penal Code Bars Life Imprisonment Without Parole for Children


The American Law Institute, an independent organization composed of 4000 prominent judges, lawyers, and legal scholars working to clarify, modernize, and improve the law, has called for banning the use of life imprisonment without parole for juveniles. Its new model code requires consideration of the child’s age and reduced sentences for juveniles prosecuted in adult court.

The American Law Institute (ALI) publishes Restatements of the Law and model statutes, including the Model Penal Code, which serves as a guide for policymakers and courts. A revised draft Model Penal Code section on Sentencing was approved by the Institute’s membership at its 2011 Annual Meeting.

The new sentencing Code recognizes that children “should be judged less blameworthy for their criminal acts than older offenders — and age-based mitigation should increase in correspondence with the youthfulness of individual defendants.” The Code also grants sentencing judges discretion to impose a juvenile-court disposition as an alternative to an adult sanction, requires a juvenile-court disposition in some cases, and allows judges to retain authority to impose an adult sentence if the offender violates the conditions of the juvenile disposition.

The Code recommends that states exempt underage offenders from mandatory minimum penalties and that they establish lowered maximum penalties for youthful offenders. It would make all juvenile offenders sentenced to long prison terms eligible for sentence modification after serving 10 years.

Noting that more than 10,000 children were housed in adult prisons and jails on any given day in 2009, and that children are especially vulnerable to victimization, psychological harm, and suicide in adult prisons, the Code bars housing juveniles in adult prisons.

EJI believes that no child should be sentenced to die in prison and has launched a litigation campaign to challenge death-in-prison sentences imposed on young children.