Life without Parole for Children in Illinois
Fact Sheet by the Illinois Coalition for Fair Sentencing of Children

What is Life without Parole (“LWOP”) for Children?

  • LWOP means children are sentenced to die in prison; these individuals will never be considered for release.
  • In Illinois, children as young as 13 can be sentenced to LWOP.
  • At least 103 people in IL are serving LWOP sentences for crimes they were convicted of committing as children.
  • Only six other states have more people serving juvenile life without parole sentences.
  • 59% of children nationwide received LWOP for their very first criminal conviction.
  • Over 95% of youth offenders serving LWOP sentences were automatically transferred from juvenile court to adult criminal court with no opportunity for a judge to review the appropriateness of the transfer.
  • Based on the national average, an estimated 25% of these individuals were not even the principal actor in the offense.

Youth are fundamentally different from adults, and deserve second chances to make better choices.

  • A chance for parole means a person must demonstrate sufficient rehabilitation to earn parole; it does not suggest that offenders will or should be paroled at any time in the near future.
  • As the United States Supreme Court recognized, youthful offenders are less culpable than adults due to their still developing character, evolving sense of responsibility for their actions, and susceptibility to negative influences.
  • The American Bar Association has also recommended that sentences for juveniles should recognize mitigating factors particular to their “youthful status,” and juveniles “should generally be eligible for parole or other early release consideration at a reasonable point during their sentence; and, if denied, should be reconsidered for parole or early release periodically thereafter.”

A second chance to grow, learn and live is a human right agreed upon by the rest of the world

  • International law bans the sentence of child LWOP. The Convention on the Rights of a Child contains an absolute ban on the practice and the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination recommended that the United States “discontinue” the use of life without parole sentences for children under the age of 18.
  • There are more than 2,500 people serving life without parole for a crime committed in their youth in the United States and none in the rest of the world.
  • The United States is the only country in the entire world that sentences youth to life without parole.

Juvenile LWOP sentences disproportionately impact youth who lacked opportunities in the first place
As self-reported by the 83 out of the 103 individuals serving juvenile LWOP sentences in Illinois:

  • 64% suffered serious alcohol and drug abuse issues during childhood
  • 24% had parents who were abusing drugs or alcohol
  • 35% had been in special education classes
  • 23% never made it to high school

Juvenile LWOP sentences disproportionately impact youth of color in Illinois

  • 82% of youth offenders serving LWOP sentences are prisoners of color—72% are African-American, 10% are Latino
  • In Cook County, the statistics are even more extreme — 64 of the 73 children sentenced to LWOP were youth of color
  • Illinois far exceeds the national average of African American children sentenced to LWOP which is 60%

Juvenile LWOP is costly and ineffective in making communities safe and secure

  • According to a recent Center for Disease Control and Prevention report, “transfer to the adult criminal justice system typically increases rather than decreases rates of violence among transferred youth.”
  • It costs $24,655.75 to incarcerate a person in prison for one year, or nearly $1.5 million dollars for 60 years.
  • In 2006, the average annual wage of someone working in the U.S. was $36,210 ; a person who was working rather than incarcerated would pay about $271,575 in federal taxes.

(for notes please download the fact sheet above)