Sixty-eight inmates in Wisconsin are serving life sentences for crimes they committed at age 16 or younger, reported the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. In Wisconsin, juveniles as young as 10 are automatically charged as adults when accused of first-degree murder. While judges can move cases to juvenile court where sentences are shorter and resources for rehabilitation are more widely available, they rarely do.
In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court banned mandatory life sentences without parole for juveniles, noting such sentences fail to consider dysfunctional upbringings or peer pressure that may have contributed to the crimes. Earlier this year, the court said its ruling should be applied retroactively, giving 2,000 inmates across the country the chance to be resentenced or get out of prison early.
Since the Supreme Court rulings, 19 states have outlawed life without parole for juveniles.
But there is little chance the rulings will make a difference for the 68 juvenile offenders serving life terms in Wisconsin. Since most will technically be eligible for parole, the Supreme Court decisions won’t trigger a review of their sentences. And because parole is rarely granted in Wisconsin, release is unlikely.
Advocates for reform say treating young offenders as adults and subjecting them to life sentences ignores the growing scientific and judicial consensus: Juvenile brains aren’t fully formed and young people are more capable of rehabilitation than adults.