Juvenile Life Without Parole: Review of Sentences

April 2011
To be reviewed 2015

by the Juvenile Justice Reform Committee

There are currently over 2500 people serving life without parole for crimes committed as juveniles. In 2010, the Supreme Court declared such sentences to be unconstitutional for crimes other than homicide. As a result, at least 125 of these individuals will soon have their sentences reviewed. Juvenile offenders serving life without parole should have an initial review of their sentences within five years of sentencing or by age 25, whichever comes first. As maturation and rehabilitation are ongoing processes, subsequent reviews should occur no less than every three years. Research demonstrates that brain development continues throughout adolescence and into early adulthood. The frontal lobes, which are critical for mature reasoning and impulse control, are among the last areas of the brain to mature. They are not fully developed until the early to mid-20's.

Any sentence review must include a review of educational and court documents as well as a comprehensive mental health evaluation, conducted by a child mental health professional, such as a child and adolescent psychiatrist. The mental health evaluation must include a family interview, prenatal history, developmental history, medical history, academic history, legal history, history of mental health interventions, history of treatment for substance use, social history and a psychological evaluation.


  1. Policy Statement on Juvenile Life without Parole, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, June, 2009.

  2. Brief for the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry as amici curiae in support of neither party in Graham v. Florida and Sullivan v. Florida, July 23, 2009.

  3. Practice Parameter for Assessment and Treatment of Youth in Juvenile Detention and Correction Facilities, Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 44:10 October, 2005.

  4. Brief of the American Psychological Association, American Psychiatric Association, National Association of Social Workers, and Mental Health America as amici curiae supporting petitioners in Graham v. Florida and Sullivan v. Florida, July, 2009.

  5. Kessler, Carol L. and Louis James Kraus, The Mental Health Needs of Young Offenders: Forging Paths toward Reintegration and Rehabilitation, Cambridge University Press, 2007.

  6. Lipsey, Mark, Wilson, David, and Lynn Cothern, Effective Intervention for Serious Juvenile Offenders, Juvenile Justice Bulletin, April, 2000.

  7. Position Statement on Adjudication of Youths as Adults in the Correctional Justice System, American Psychiatric Association, December, 2005.

  8. Steinberg, Laurence and Elizabeth S. Scott, Less Guilty by Reason of Adolescence: Developmental Immaturity, Diminished Responsibility, and the Juvenile Death Penalty, American Psychologist, December, 2003.