Nearly 10,000 U.S. juveniles are serving life terms — with or without possibility of parole — said a recent New York Times survey.
Meanwhile, life sentences for all age groups have climbed across the country. The number of Americans in prison for life has quadrupled since the mid-1980s.
Colorado is, alas, at the cutting edge of this negative trend. Most Colorado juveniles are there based on a Colorado law that allows life sentences to be imposed upon participants in a felony that results in a death, even if the juvenile's involvement in the crime was relatively minor:
Felony murder charges are applied disproportionately to Colorado youths. Among juveniles sentenced to life since 1998, 60 percent went to prison on felony murder convictions, compared with 24 percent of adult cases[.]
This is troublesome because felony murder participants are probably the most likely murder convicts to rehabilitate. Often, they didn't set out to be murderers and often didn't really expect anyone to get hurt in their crimes. They are undeniably felons, but juvenile felons who are dealt with within the juvenile justice system frequently rehabilitate themselves.
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