Arkansas Abolishes Death-in-Prison Sentences for Children


This week, the State of Arkansas became the latest state to abolish life imprisonment without parole for juveniles.

Arkansas joins a growing number of states that have passed legislation barring death-in-prison sentences for children after the Supreme Court banned mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juvenile offenders in Miller v. Alabama. Acknowledging that children are constitutionally different from adults when it comes to sentencing, the law’s adoption in a Southern state contributes to the increasing body of evidence that states recognize that death-in-prison sentences for children are not appropriate.

As the bill points out, Texas, Utah, South Dakota, Wyoming, Nevada, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Montana, Alaska, West Virginia, Colorado, Hawaii, Delaware, Connecticut, Vermont, Massachusetts, and the District of Columbia have eliminated the sentence of life without parole for children.

The Fair Sentencing of Minors Act of 2017 passed both chambers of the state legislature with broad support. The bill was sponsored by Senator Missy Irvin and Representative Rebecca Petty, who opposed similar legislation that failed in 2015. Ms. Petty’s daughter was murdered in 1999, and after meeting with advocates for juvenile sentencing reform, including a mother who lost her daughter to youth violence, she championed the bill in the House to ensure its passage with bipartisan support.

Now known as Act 539, it will make more than 100 people currently serving life sentences in Arkansas for juvenile offenses eligible for parole after 20 or 30 years, depending on their conviction.

More states are recognizing that death-in-prison sentences for children are not appropriate.