Against All Odds: Prison Conditions for Youth Offenders Serving Life Without Parole Sentences in the United States

Human Rights Watch Report, 2012

Posted: 19 Jul 2014

See all articles by Ian M. Kysel

Ian M. Kysel

Cornell Law School

Elizabeth M. Calvin

Independent

Alison Parker

Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

Date Written: January 1, 2012

Abstract

Currently, more than 2,500 inmates in the United States await death in adult prison, sentenced to life without parole for crimes they committed while they were under the age of 18. Youth offenders serving life without parole enter prison with developmental needs for protection, education, and other services in order to be able to fully mature into adulthood. Yet youth offenders are among the inmates most susceptible to physical and sexual assault during their incarceration, are often placed in isolated segregation, and are frequently classified in ways that can deprive them of access to rehabilitative programs. The United States is the only country in the world with youth offenders serving life without parole sentences, in violation of international human rights law.

Against All Odds details the strong evidence that youth offenders serving life without parole are imprisoned in conditions that violate fundamental international human rights law and standards. Based on information from corrections departments across the country and hundreds of youth offenders serving life without parole, the report documents how states fail to protect youth offenders from physical assault and sexual violence, to administer adequate mental health care, or to provide access to age-appropriate services and programs. Despite the fact that the length of their sentence and their youth upon entering adult prison make growth and rehabilitation extraordinarily difficult, some youth offenders sentenced to life without parole do achieve emotional, intellectual and personal transformation in prison -- an extraordinary fact given the hurdles they face.

Human Rights Watch calls on the US government to abolish the sentence of life without parole for crimes committed by persons below the age of 18 and to investigate and improve conditions for youth offenders imprisoned across the United States.

Suggested Citation

Kysel, Ian M. and Calvin, Elizabeth M. and Parker, Alison, Against All Odds: Prison Conditions for Youth Offenders Serving Life Without Parole Sentences in the United States (January 1, 2012). Human Rights Watch Report, 2012, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2467904

Ian M. Kysel (Contact Author)

Cornell Law School ( email )

Ithaca, NY 14853
United States

Elizabeth M. Calvin

Independent ( email )

Alison Parker

Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars ( email )

One Woodrow Wilson Plaza
1300 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20004-3027
United States

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