Life Sentences

America's Shocking Prison Statistic

When it comes to criminal justice, the U.S. has long been the renegade of the developed world. It's the only Western nation that allows the death penalty, and until four years ago, it was one of only eight nations that executed juveniles. (The others were Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Yemen, Pakistan, Iran, China, and the Congo.) But a New York Times report sheds light on another American exception: In the entire world, just over 100 people are serving life sentences without parole for crimes they committed as minors in which nobody died—and all of them are in the United States. Even more stunning: 77 of them are in Florida, a state that enacted tough anti-crime laws in the 1990s when, the state attorney general says, juvenile crime rates soared, and the image of the teenage "super-predator" took hold. On Monday, the Supreme Court will hear from two of Florida's juvenile offenders who say their sentences amount to cruel and unusual punishment, but some state legislators are unrepentant. “Sometimes a 15-year-old has a tremendous appreciation for right and wrong,” said Republican State Representative William D. Snyder, chairman of the House’s Criminal and Civil Justice Policy Council.