October 12, 2005

The Rest of Their Lives

Life without Parole for Child Offenders in the United States

Human Rights Watch


Copyright © 2005 Human Rights Watch/Amnesty International.

All rights reserved.

Printed in the United States of America

ISBN: 1564323358

Cover photos: © 2005 Private

Cover design by Rafael Jimenez

Human Rights Watch

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Human Rights Watch is dedicated to protecting the human rights of people around the world.

We stand with victims and activists to prevent discrimination, to uphold political freedom, to protect people from inhumane conduct in wartime, and to bring offenders to justice.

We investigate and expose human rights violations and hold abusers accountable.

We challenge governments and those who hold power to end abusive practices and respect international human rights law.

We enlist the public and the international community to support the cause of human rights for all.


Human Rights Watch conducts regular, systematic investigations of human rights abuses in some seventy countries around the world. Our reputation for timely, reliable disclosures has made us an essential source of information for those concerned with human rights. We address the human rights practices of governments of all political stripes, of all geopolitical alignments, and of all ethnic and religious persuasions. Human Rights Watch defends freedom of thought and expression, due process and equal protection of the law, and a vigorous civil society; we document and denounce murders, disappearances, torture, arbitrary imprisonment, discrimination, and other abuses of internationally recognized human rights. Our goal is to hold governments accountable if they transgress the rights of their people.

Human Rights Watch began in 1978 with the founding of its Europe and Central Asia division (then known as Helsinki Watch). Today, it also includes divisions covering Africa, the Americas, Asia, and the Middle East. In addition, it includes three thematic divisions on arms, children's rights, and women's rights. It maintains offices in Berlin, Brussels, Geneva, London, Los Angeles, Moscow, New York, San Francisco, Tashkent, Toronto, and Washington. Human Rights Watch is an independent, nongovernmental organization, supported by contributions from private individuals and foundations worldwide. It accepts no government funds, directly or indirectly.

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The division directors of Human Rights Watch are Brad Adams, Asia; Joseph Amon, HIV/AIDS and Human Rights; Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia; Richard Dicker, International Justice; Jamie Fellner, United States; Bill Frelick, Refugees; Arvind Ganesan, Business and Human Rights; Steve Goose, Arms; LaShawn R. Jefferson, Women's Rights; Scott Long, Lesbian, Gay Bisexual and Transgender Rights; Peter Takirambudde, Africa; José Miguel Vivanco, Americas; Lois Whitman, Children's Rights; and Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa.

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Emeritus board members are Roland Algrant, Robert L. Bernstein (Founding Chair 1978-1997), William D. Carmichael, Adrian W. DeWind, Alice H. Henkin, Bruce Rabb, Gary Sick, and Malcolm B. Smith.


Amnesty International is a worldwide movement of people who campaign for internationally recognized human rights to be respected and protected.

Amnesty International's vision is of a world in which every person enjoys all of the human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights standards.

In pursuit of this vision, Amnesty International's mission is to undertake research and action focused on preventing and ending grave abuses of the rights to physical and mental integrity, freedom of conscience and expression, and freedom from discrimination, within the context of its work to promote all human rights.

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Amnesty International is a democratic, self-governing movement with more than 1.8 million members and supporters in over 150 countries and territories in every region of the world. It is funded largely by its worldwide membership and public donations.


This report is the first joint report by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International on human rights violations in the United States.

We would like to thank all of the child offenders, their parents, siblings, and friends who shared their experiences with us for this report. We would like to thank the personnel from state correctional departments across the country, but especially those in Arkansas, California, Colorado, Iowa, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania, who contributed their experience and views to this report. We would also like to acknowledge the victims and their family members whose lives were taken or deeply harmed by the crimes committed by the youth offenders featured in this report.

Alison Parker, senior researcher in the U.S. program of Human Rights Watch researched and wrote this report. David Berger, attorney with the law firm of O'Melveny & Meyers, was Amnesty International's researcher for this report.

The full report was edited by Amnesty International staff members in the US, at its International Secretariat in London, and by Derek Douglas, counsel at O'Melveny & Myers. (Amnesty International has a policy of not naming individual members of staff responsible for researching and producing reports.) Human Rights Watch, Jamie Fellner, director of the U.S. program at Human Rights Watch, was the project director and principal editor; James Ross, senior legal advisor; Joseph Saunders, deputy program director; and Michael Bochenek, deputy director of the Children's Rights Division also edited the report. Also at Human Rights Watch, Paul Jacobs, U.S. Program Associate, and Keramet Reiter, U.S. Program Associate, provided invaluable research and production assistance. Layout and production were coordinated by Andrea Holley and Keramet Reiter. Staff at Amnesty International USA provided additional project direction and editing.

A special thanks goes to Deborah Labelle, director of the Juvenile Life without Parole Initiative in Michigan, for her tireless advocacy, intelligent guidance, and vision.

A special thanks also goes to the law firm of O'Melveny and Myers, which provided pro bono legal counsel and analysis central to the creation of this report.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International also wish to thank the correctional officials in thirty-nine states and the federal government for the data and additional information they contributed to this report. In addition, Deborah Labelle, director, and Anna Phillips, research coordinator of the Juvenile Life without Parole Initiative in Ann Arbor, Michigan, provided us with much needed data on the populations of child offenders serving life without the possibility of parole in numerous states, for which we are very grateful.

The following interns at Human Rights Watch worked on this report: Maura Dundon, Solmaz Firoz, Rohini Gupta, Miranda Johnson, and Shayna Parekh. The following interns at O'Melveny and Myers worked on this report: Patrick McMullen, Candance Jackson, Rebecca Ingber, Sam Walsh, Anuj Gupta, David Harris, Eric Haren and Brandi Davis. Meredith Patten and Kirsten Christiansen were statistical consultants for this report. The Chicago Committee for Human Rights Watch also provided invaluable research assistance, and Connie de la Vega, Mark Humowiecki, Anil Kalhan, Robert Schwartz, and Laurence Steinberg were very helpful advisors during our research. Human Rights Watch would also like to thank Peter Lewis, The Joyce Foundation, and the Open Society Institute, all of whom generously support our work in the United States.

It is impossible to do justice to the wealth of information accumulated during research for this report without creating a far too lengthy document. Yet, because the youth offenders we have been in touch with for this report are for the most part "hidden" from the general public, we have placed some of the letters received from them, photos, audio clips of portions of their interviews, and important court cases and briefs on both Human Rights Watch's and Amnesty International USA's websites. They can be found at http://www.hrw.org and http://www.aiusa.org.