Executive Summary: The Rest of Their Lives

Life without Parole for Youth Offenders in the United States in 2008

In this update to Human Rights Watch’s work on eliminating the sentence of life without parole for juvenile offenders, a number of findings are presented that illustrate the troublesome nature of the sentence and how it is applied to youthful offenders. Among those findings are that the United States is alone in the world in applying this harsh sentence to juveniles, that an estimated 59 percent of youth who receive the sentence had no prior adjudications or convictions, and that there are currently nearly 2,500 offenders who are serving life without parole for crimes committed while they were a juvenile. Additionally, data reveal that there are stark racial disparities in the imposition of the sentence, with black youth serving life without parole at a per capita rate that is 10 times the rate of white youth.