In 2012 the U.S. Supreme Court decided that mandatory life sentences for juveniles was a violation of the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishment”.
Ever since then almost a dozen states have resolved how their states should address retroactivity issues, or whether this new constitutional rule applied to older cases.
Six states have decided yes ‑- including, for example, Texas and Mississippi; — and three states, among them Pennsylvania, have ruled no, meaning the new rule doesn’t apply to earlier cases.
That’s significant because Pennsylvania has more juvenile lifers than any other state in the United States — some 462, at last count. And, not surprisingly, Philadelphia leads the state’s other counties in the number of jailed juvenile lifers: 265.
And recently, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that it would not hear appeals on the issue of juvenile retroactivity.
So thousands of people, many of whom have been imprisoned for decades — with mandatory life sentences — remain in prison without chance or hope of parole.
In that Miller. v. Alabama case from 2012, the court majority reminded other members of the court that “children are still children”.
That lesson has not yet reached Pennsylvania.