Sentenced to Life Without Parole As a Juvenile: ‘You Are My First Visitor in Over 40 Years’


For more than a decade I have interviewed more than 1,000 kids in 35 states. What of these kids who were sentenced to long sentences and JLWOP, life sentences without parole? These kids become adults who become geriatric. These are the people I have interviewed for the past year.  

Miller v. Alabama ruled that even in capital cases, juveniles cannot be given life without parole. Montgomery v. Louisiana made these cases retroactive.

In Florida when these people don’t get to go in front of a parole board, now renamed a “sentencing review board,” they have been given de facto life sentences. Other states find workarounds so they don’t have to comply.  

In some cases where parole is granted, the men and women are improperly prepared plus required to pay administrative fees. Some states have “lifetime parole.” You can go to your grave making sure your parole officer knows where you are 24/7. It is difficult and may be close to impossible to comply for people who are already living on the margins of society.  

These are their stories. I tried to focus on the commonality of poverty, failure of education, broken families. It is up to the reader to digest this and listen to these teens, now 40, 50, 60, 70 and even 80. When you have incarcerated a teenager since Eisenhower was in his first term … are we deterring others? Rehabilitating people? Or is this far beyond the concept of a punishment fitting a crime.

How do we address this? How do we repair this? There are more than 2,000 people — juveniles serving life without parole all over the country. These are some of their voices. These are their faces.

For more information

Richard Ross

4 thoughts on “Sentenced to Life Without Parole As a Juvenile: ‘You Are My First Visitor in Over 40 Years’”

  1. Richard, I agree that the system is broken. I hope though, for sake of balance you have interviewed the victims or their families in each of these cases as well. The real question seems to be, “How do we balance justice for the victims and their families and safety of the communities that were/are being victimized vs. rehabilitation of the offender?” It saddens me that the tone of your story appears to be leaning toward the offender as the only victim in this situation. I hope you will address the needs of those who have been victimized in these cases as well.

  2. The obvious is our messed justice system is beyond broken, this whole article is tragically sad. its heart wrenching. Whether or not a person was in the wrong place at the wrong time or it was an intentional crime, does not make up for the fact that this country has dropped the ball on many youth. These kid most of them I bet could have had a productive life with the right support, by parents, by the schools, or mentors. EVERYONE OF US are to blame for the down fall of our youth. The phrase it takes a tribe to raise a child should be (in my opinion ) should be the motto of every block, every mall, every school. EVERY state.
    Lets pray for Bernie Sanders to come back or someone like him.

  3. Sorry but my brother was murdered by a white, privileged 17 year old. He chose to be a criminal when he could have had a productive life. My then 17 year old nephew will tell you he has been trapped mentally in prison since his Dad’s murder and no-one is helping him.

    1. And at 19, my unprivileged white husband had been wrongfully convicted to life for an incident which had no victims.
      Real prison.
      The system is broken

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