Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin has signed H. 62 into law, eliminating life without parole as a sentencing option for children and adding to the movement for reform in the ways that we hold young people accountable when they are convicted of serious crimes.
“I am appalled that the U.S. is the only country in the world that still sentences juveniles to a life sentence without the possibility of release or parole, and currently 2,500 individuals in the U.S. are sentenced to die in prison for crimes they committed as children,” said Vermont Rep. Barbara Rachelson, who sponsored the bill. “While I am proud to say that Vermont has never handed out this sentence, the signing of H.62 will take this crime off the books and assure that it will never happen.”
The U.S. Supreme Court, drawing in part on child development science, has ruled that children are “constitutionally different” from adults and should not be subject to our country’s harshest penalties. In 2005, the Court abolished the juvenile death penalty. In 2010, the Court ruled in Graham v. Florida that it is unconstitutional to impose a life-without-parole sentence upon a child for a non-homicide crime. And in 2012’s Miller v. Alabama, the Court ruled it is a violation of the 8th Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment to impose a life-without-parole sentence for a crime committed by a person younger than 18.
“Vermont has taken a great step forward in recognizing that children should be treated differently than adults when they are convicted of serious crimes,” said James Dold, Advocacy Director for the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth. “We are grateful for the leadership of Vermont’s legislature and Attorneys General in ending the practice of sentencing children to die in prison.”
The Vermont Attorneys Generals Office, along with numerous advocates from across the state supported the legislation.
A growing number of lawmakers and opinion leaders — including President Jimmy Carter, former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Newt Gingrich, columnist George Will and Pope Francis — have called for an end to these sentences. More than 150 national and international organizations have also called for reforms.
Earlier this year, the American Bar Association passed Resolution 107C calling on all states and the federal government to eliminate life without parole sentences for children. ABA President, William C. Hubbard, called the sentence a severe violation of human rights when imposed upon children. “The ABA applauds those states that have already taken steps to reform their laws and urges other states to pass similar reforms as soon as practicable,” he stated following the resolution’s adoption.
Vermont is the 12th state to eliminate life-without-parole sentences for children and the first state to pass such legislation following the adoption of the ABA’s resolution in February.