On Thursday, September 11, 2008, EJI Director Bryan Stevenson will testify before the United States House of Representatives Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security during hearings on H.R. 4300, the Juvenile Justice Accountability and Improvement Act.
Introduced in December 2007 and sponsored by Rep. Robert Scott (D-VA-3) and Rep. John Conyers (D-MI-14), the bill would require states to grant child offenders who are serving a life sentence a meaningful opportunity for parole.
The United States is the only country in the world that has children sentenced to die in prison. Mr. Stevenson will testify that sentencing young children to death in prison is unconstitutional and violates international law. EJI has found that, nationwide, 73 people are serving sentences to life imprisonment without possibility of parole for offenses committed when they were 13 or 14 years old. Some of these children were charged with crimes that do not involve homicide or even injury; many were convicted for offenses where older teenagers or adults were involved and primarily responsible for the crime; and nearly two-thirds are children of color.
Most of these children were sentenced to die in prison under mandatory sentencing schemes that did not allow the sentencing judge to consider the child’s age or background. Most share tragic histories of severe abuse and neglect. The subcommittee will learn from Mr. Stevenson about recent legal developments, international law, and medical insights about child development that provide powerful support for ending life without parole sentences for young children and demonstrate why the Juvenile Justice Accountability and Improvement Act is critically needed to address this issue.