The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth is dedicated to ending the practice of sentencing any young person to die in prison. This harsh, extreme life without parole sentence has a disproportionate impact on communities of color.
Human Rights Watch reports that more than 2,500 people in the United States have been convicted of a crime committed before they were 18 years old and sentenced to life without parole. One out of every 8 African-American youth who are convicted of killing someone will be sentenced to life without parole, however this is only the case for one out of every 13 white youth convicted of murder.[i]
The most extreme sentence that a person under the age of 18 can receive is life without parole, which occurs when young people are transferred from juvenile court to be tried as adults in criminal court. Young people sentenced to life without the possibility of parole have effectively been discarded by society. They will never again have their sentence considered or have their cases reviewed to see if they have grown or matured. Below is a list of facts that demonstrates the channel from school to prison–sometimes for life–to which youth of color are disproportionately subjected.
In schools, youth of color are more likely to be expelled or suspended, but there is no evidence that they misbehave more than their white counterparts.
- Latino youth as a group are the most likely group to be out of school and without a high school diploma. Economists have calculated that each Latino male who graduates from high school is associated with a savings to the criminal justice system of more than $38,000.[i]
- African-American students are far more likely than their white peers to be suspended, expelled, or arrested for the same conduct.[ii]
- There is no evidence that students of color misbehave to a greater degree than white students. They are, however, punished more severely, often for behaviors that are less serious. [iii] This is most strikingly true for drug offenses.
In the juvenile justice system the legacy of removing youth of color from their families persists.
- In 2006, Native American youth were 4 times more likely to be detained than whites.[iv]
- 45% of all incarcerated youth are African-American, 30% are White and one-quarter (25%) are Hispanic.[v]
- Studies show that youth of color are treated more harshly than White youth even when arrested and prosecuted for the same offense. For example, White youth are more than a third more likely to have sold drugs than African American youth.[vi] But African American youth are arrested at twice the rate of whites and represent nearly half (48%) of all the youth incarcerated for a drug offense in the juvenile justice system.
More transfers to the adult criminal justice system result in youth of color being more likely to be sentenced in adult court and therefore more likely to receive long term adult sentences.
- African-American youth make up 17% of the overall youth population, 30% of those arrested and 62% of the youth prosecuted in the adult criminal system. [vii]
- White youth are twice as likely to be represented by private counsel as African American youth. Youth who are represented by private attorneys were less likely to be convicted and more likely to be transferred back to juvenile court.[viii]
- A comprehensive six month study of 18 representative jurisdictions across the country found that youth of color were disproportionately charged in adult court. In order to be sentenced to life without parole in the United States you must have contact with the adult criminal justice system, which is completely separate from the juvenile justice system. [ix]
Grown Up Sentences Given to Young People of Color
- 60 % of people serving life without parole for crimes committed in their youth in the United States are African American, 29% are White and .8 percent are Native American.[x]
- When African American youth have committed the same offense and have the same prior record as their white counterparts they are often found more culpable, in fact studies show that most minorities are sentenced more harshly than whites.[xi]
- 73 % of the people (whose race has been identified) serving life without parole in U. S. federal prisons for a crime committed under age 18 are people of color.[xii]
[i] Human Rights Watch & Amnesty International. (2005, October 11). The rest of their lives: Life without parole for child offenders in the United States, 39-44 . Retrieved from http://www.hrw.org/reports/2005/us1005/
[i] Arya, N., Villarruel, F., Villanueva, C., & Augarten, I. (2009, May). America’s invisible children: Latino youth and the failure of justice (Race and ethnicity series No. 3). Retrieved from Campaign for Youth Justice website: http://www.campaignforyouthjustice.org/documents/Latino_Brief.pdf
[ii] Skiba, R. J. (2000, August). Zero tolerance, zero evidence: An analysis of school disciplinary practice (Policy Research Report No. SRS2), 11-12. Retrieved from Indiana Education Policy Center website: http://www.indiana.edu/~safeschl/ztze.pdf
[iii] Advancement Project. (2005, March 24). Education on lockdown: the schoolhouse to jailhouse track, 8.
[iv] W. Haywood Burns Institute. (n.d.). Disproportionate Minority Confinement/Contact. Retrieved from http://www.burnsinstitute.org/downloads/BI%20DMC%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf
[v] NCLR calculation using West, H.C. & Sabol, W.J. (2009). Prison Inmates at Midyear 2008 – Statistical Tables. Bureau of Justice Statistics, 17. Retrieved from http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/pim08st.pdf; and National Center for Juvenile Justice. (2008) Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement Databook. National Center for Juvenile Justice. Retrieved from http://www.ojjdp.ncjrs.gov/ojstatbb/cjrp
[vi] The 1999 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse reports that White youth aged 12-17 are more than a third more likely to have sold drugs than African-American youth. The National Institute of Drug Abuse survey of high school seniors for 1998/1999 shows that White students use cocaine at 7 to 8 times the rate of African American students, and heroin at 7 times the rate of African American students. See http://www.drugpolicy.org/communities/race/educationvsi/index.cfm
[vii] Arya, N. & Augarten, I. Critical condition: African-American youth in the justice system (Race and ethnicity series No. 2). Retrieved from Campaign for Youth Justice website: http://www.campaignforyouthjustice.org/documents/AfricanAmericanBrief.pdf
[viii] Juszkiewicz, J. Youth crime/adult time: Is justice served? Retrieved from Building Blocks for Youth Initiative website: http://www.buildingblocksforyouth.org/ycat/ycat.html
[ix] Juszkiewicz, J. Youth crime/adult time: Is justice served? Retrieved from Building Blocks for Youth Initiative website: http://www.buildingblocksforyouth.org/ycat/ycat.html
[x] Human Rights Watch & Amnesty International. (2005, October 11). The rest of their lives: Life without parole for child offenders in the United States, 39. Retrieved from http://www.hrw.org/reports/2005/us1005/
[xi] Mitchell, Q. (2005). A Meta-Analysis of Race and Sentencing Research: Explaining the Inconsistencies. Journal of Quantitative Criminology 21 , 439–66.
[xii]Human Rights Watch (2009, June 4). Letter from human rights organizations to CERD regarding juvenile life without parole in the US. Retrieved from http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2009/06/04/letter-human-rights-organizations-cerd-regarding-juvenile-life-without-parole-us.