Statement on the Supreme Court Decision in Graham v. Florida

May 17, 2010

Contact Allison Conyers at 202-612-3214 or [email protected]

Today’s ruling by the Supreme Court is a tremendous outcome for youth across the nation.  In Graham v. Florida the court ruled that sentencing youth who did not commit murder to life without parole is unconstitutional.  This is a significant reaffirmation by the Court that youth are fundamentally different than adults and should be held accountable in an age-appropriate way.

Terrance Graham is one of more than 2,500 people serving life in prison without the possibility of parole for crimes committed as teenagers in the United States–the only country in the world that sentences people under 18 to die in prison.  Research reiterates what we all know from our own experience –young people do change and grow and because of this, are great candidates for rehabilitation.   Research shows that 90 to 95% of young offenders grow out of criminal behavior.

Dozens of other juveniles sentenced to life without parole are now entitled to relief, including Joe Sullivan, whose case also was argued on this issue.  Mr. Sullivan will now apply for resentencing under the Court’s ruling in Graham, along with Terrance Graham and dozens of other individuals who committed crimes other than murder when they were under 18 years of age.    

The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth works to end the practice of sentencing any young person to life without parole.  We should never be in the practice of giving up on our youth—many of whom are victims of crimes themselves.  Instead we should strive to make our communities safer through programs that provide opportunities for youth to learn from their mistakes. 

When youth are convicted of serious crimes and sent to prison, we should check in on them later in life to determine whether they may safely return to our communities, rather than declaring them worthless and stripping them of all hope and opportunity for rehabilitation.  We have a responsibility to reform our sentencing laws to reflect our values and the special characteristics of youth, and bring an end to this deplorable United States practice.”


For research and to learn more about youth sentenced to die in prison in the United States, visit our site