On the same day that U.S. President Obama banned youth solitary confinement in federal prisons (Monday, January 25, 2016), the U.S. Supreme Court expanded its ban on mandatory sentences of life in prison without parole for inmates convicted of murders committed before age 18. It argued that even those imprisoned years ago should have an opportunity to seek release.
The court’s 6-3 ruling supported Louisiana inmate Henry Montgomery, who is black and at age 17 was convicted in a 1963 shooting of a sheriff’s deputy at a time racial tensions in the area were running high. He’s spent more than half a century in prison with an automatic life sentence without parole.
An earlier Supreme Court ruling in 2012 said that mandatory life sentences without parole in homicide cases involving juveniles violated the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The Monday decision ordered that the ban also applied retroactively to inmates convicted before that 2012 ruling was issued.
That means more than 1,000 people serving similar sentences in the United States could be resentenced or have an opportunity to apply for parole. This doesn’t guarantee their release. It will, however be the first time a judge will be able to take into account the qualities that may have made these under 18s less culpable than adults who committed the same crimes.
None of this is revolutionary. It’s progressive.