For this report, Human Rights Watch interviewed and corresponded with 335 individuals serving life without parole for crimes they committed as children, and Amnesty International interviewed and corresponded with 40 such individuals. In addition to in-person interviews and correspondence with prisoners, we interviewed parents or other close relatives and spoke with the attorneys for all of the youth offenders we interviewed who had pending appeals.
Prisoners were contacted through an advertisement in the newsletter Prison Legal News or through a direct mailing. We also received suggestions for interviewees from social workers, defense attorneys, and family members. Both organizations sought out and have included here press accounts or court documents that shed additional light on a prisoners story. However, we have not sought to verify each of the specific allegations made and recognize that some may be embellished or altered in the telling. Nevertheless, the letters and interviews are eloquent testimony to the prisoners senses of their experiences. Where prisoners letters are quoted, we have left in place spelling and grammatical errors. As is consistent with our practice when reporting on prison conditions, we use pseudonyms for offenders to protect against the possibility of intimidation or retaliation.
With the much-appreciated assistance of the law firm of OMelveny and Myers, LLP, Amnesty International conducted detailed research into the laws and standards in the United States applicable to life without parole sentencing, the psychological and neurological differences between youth and adults, and collected and analyzed sentencing records for one of the reports case studies.
Human Rights Watch interviewed judges, defense attorneys, prosecutors, social workers, psychologists, prison authorities, and prison educational specialists in Arkansas, Colorado, California, Florida, Iowa, Illinois, Louisiana, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania. For an international perspective, Human Rights Watch interviewed criminal defense solicitors in the United Kingdom and visited a juvenile facility there.
Finally, Amnesty International, USA and Human Rights Watch are pleased to announce that the issue of life without parole sentencing for youth in the United States will be a focus of campaigning and advocacy work throughout the country, including by Amnesty Internationals regional chapters and student groups.