In May of 2008, The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) released, “No Chance to Make it Right: Life Without Parole for Juvenile Offenders in Mississippi.” This groundbreaking report examines the racial, social, political, and economic circumstances surrounding juvenile life without parole sentencing in Mississippi.
LDF’s study found that African-Americans are significantly overrepresented among the youth currently serving such sentences. Specifically, twenty of the twenty-six Mississippians then sentenced to life without parole as teenagers are African-American. Carlton Reeves, the former President of Mississippi’s Magnolia Bar Association, considers this evidence of racial disproportionality very disturbing.
LDF also found that once a child is convicted as an adult of capital murder, judges have no choice but to impose a sentence of life without parole. Judges cannot consider the individual aspects of a child’s background that may have contributed to his crimes, nor can they take into account the child’s capacity for rehabilitation. LDF believes this “one size fits all” policy is a major flaw of the sentencing structure currently in place in Mississippi.
In light of these and other troubling findings, LDF calls for a series of reforms including the complete elimination of life without parole sentences for all children. LDF believes that a sentence of life without any possibility of parole fails to recognize the capacity for rehabilitation inherent in all children. It also fails to take into account the poverty, unstable family structures, and lack of educational opportunities that have played a role in the lives of many of Mississippi’s youth.
To learn more read “No Chance to Make it Right: Life Without Parole for Juvenile Offenders in Mississippi” here.