In a groundbreaking step forward for juveniles in the criminal justice system, the governor of Colorado announced on August 29 the creation of a clemency board for youth offenders. It is the first time that a state has amended its clemency process to recognize the unique rehabilitative potential of juveniles. Following intense advocacy by Human Rights Watch and the Denver-based Pendulum Foundation, Colorado eliminated the sentence of life without parole for children in 2006, but because the decision does not apply retroactively the new board will consider requests for clemency from youth offenders currently serving life without parole, as well as other sentences.
Human Rights Watch has long worked to end life without parole for children throughout the United States, which is one of only three countries in the world to impose the overly harsh penalty. In February 2005, we released a report on the sentencing of child offenders to life without parole in Colorado, which the state legislature used during their reform efforts. In October 2005, together with Amnesty International, we released the first national study exposing the extent and impact of the sentence. Going forward, we will press other states to take measures to eliminate life without parole for youths and institute clemency procedures that take age into account.