Just five counties are responsible for a quarter of all the juvenile life-without-parole sentences nationwide, according to a new report, reported The Marshall Project. The leader is Philadelphia, with 9 percent of all juvenile lifers. The report arrives just weeks before the Supreme Court hears oral arguments in Montgomery v. Louisiana, a case that could decide the fate of juvenile lifers around the country.
“Prior reports showed that a handful of states were responsible for many of the life without parole sentences. We were able to show this was driven by a handful of counties within those states,” says John Mills, one of the authors.
The report counted 2,341 people serving juvenile life-without-parole sentences nationwide. The counties responsible for imposing a quarter of all such sentences are: Philadelphia; Los Angeles; Orleans, in Louisiana; Cook, in Illinois, and St. Louis. Michigan, which has one of the country’s biggest populations of juvenile lifers, declined to provide information.
The concentration of juvenile life-without-parole sentences follows a pattern familiar to one found in studies of the death penalty. A 2013 study by the Death Penalty Information Center found that just two percent of counties impose the majority of death sentences.
In Philadelphia, in particular, “there have been over the years a lot of aggressive prosecutors, which has led to a lot of sentences being resolved by life-without-parole sentences,” says Brad Bridge, a lawyer with the Philadelphia public defender’s office. “We’ll seek death against you, or you can opt for life imprisonment.”
In Philadelphia County, Mills found 214 people serving life without parole for crimes they committed as teenagers.
Bradley Bridge a Philadelphia public defender, disputes that as too low. “If that’s his number, he needs to go back and do a better job,” Bridge says. He and the state corrections department have been working together to come up with a tally of those serving juvenile life-without-parole sentences from Philadelphia; his number, he says, is 291.
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