Step by step, the Supreme Court has been trying to reshape the way the American criminal justice system deals with those under the age of 18. In Miller v. Alabama this June, it ruled that a mandatory life sentence without parole for a juvenile is cruel and unusual punishment, even when the crime is homicide.
The Miller decision followed earlier rulings that abolished for juveniles the death penalty for all crimes and life without parole for crimes other than homicide. Together, these rulings have forced states to think very differently about how to hold juveniles accountable for crime. In recent times, states increasingly pushed juveniles into the adult criminal justice system and subjected them to overly harsh punishment. There are an estimated 2,100 people serving mandatory life sentences received when they were juveniles, in 29 states that imposed the penalty.