After the U.S. Supreme Court banned the death penalty for children in 2005, EJI began investigating how many children had been sentenced to die in prison through life imprisonment without parole sentences.
The results were striking—we found that children as young as 13 had been sentenced in adult court to die in prison. We documented 73 cases nationwide where children 13 and 14 years old were condemned to imprisonment until death.
Most of these sentences were mandatory—the sentencing judge was not allowed to consider the child’s age or life history. Some children were sentenced for crimes where no one was killed or even injured, and many were convicted even though older teens or adults were primarily responsible for the crime. Seventy percent of those 14 or younger who were sentenced to die in prison were children of color.
This report is the foundation for EJI’s litigation campaign to challenge death-in-prison sentences imposed on young children.
Equal Justice Initiative, “Cruel and Unusual: Sentencing 13- and 14-Year-Old Children to Die in Prison” (2008).