It’s about time! The Supreme Court ruled on this in 2012!
Excerpts from the Article:
AFTER THE Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that it is unconstitutional to impose mandatory life-without-parole sentences on anyone under 18, a number of states acted to bring their practices in line with the court’s requirement that judges consider the unique circumstances of each juvenile offender. More states took action after the court four years later applied the ruling retroactively.
Virginia, much to its discredit, was not one of those states. Instead, it chose to try to deny relief to juveniles who had been locked away for decades. So it is welcome news that Virginia has finally recognized the imperative to respect court jurisprudence, treat juveniles differently and adopt a law that will allow for a more just treatment of these fraught cases.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) this week signed a measure that will make anyone convicted of an offense committed before the age of 18 eligible for parole after 20 years in prison.The law, which becomes effective July 1, essentially does away with sentences of life without the possibility of parole for minors, making Virginia the 23rd state in the country (in addition to D.C.) to abolish the draconian practice. The United States has been an international outlier in its enthusiasm for sentencing people to prison for the rest of their lives for crimes they committed before 18. As in many areas of criminal justice, this misbegotten practice disproportionately has affected African Americans.
Reform began with the Supreme Court understanding that children, their brains and character still forming, are constitutionally different from adults in their level of culpability and capacity for growth. That understanding led first to a 2005 decision that a death penalty for a crime committed by a child under the age of 18 violates the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, then to the rulings on life without parole. Children, as Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote in 2016, deserve to have “hope for some years of life outside prison walls.”
That doesn’t mean all such children will eventually win release; it certainly does not entail the glossing over of horrible crimes. “Children must be held accountable,” said Jody Kent Lavy, executive director of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth — but in an age-appropriate way, with an opportunity for rehabilitation and reintegration into society.
The Virginia law, approved with bipartisan support, will give more than 700 inmates the opportunity to go in front of a parole board that will review their cases. “While there are many individuals who remain dangerous, there are many more who have made strong efforts to turn their lives around while incarcerated and are worth the parole board taking a look at whether they can be restored to society,” said Sen. David W. Marsden (D-Fairfax), a sponsor of the bill. Legislation similar to Virginia’s is pending in Maryland; we hope lawmakers there also decide to give this population a chance.