On January 25, 2016, the United States Supreme Court has decided that states have to place a ban on mandatory death-in-prison sentences for juveniles retroactively.

In 2012, the lawyers of the Equal Justice Initiative argued that sentencing children to life in prison without parole for any reason is considered “cruel and unusual punishment, based on the Supreme Court’s acknowledgement that children are less liable than adults for several reasons including immaturity, impulsivity, vulnerability, and aptitude for forgiveness and help.

On June 25, 2012, the Supreme Court made a ruling in the Miller v. Alabama case, which would later be considered historic that “mandatory life-without-parole sentences for all children 17 or younger convicted of homicide are unconstitutional” according to the Equal Justice Initiative’s website.

Many states, including Alabama, Nebraska, Connecticut, Florida, New Hampshire, Illinois, Mississippi, Iowa, Massachusetts, Texas, and Wyoming applied the cases to people already serving the sentence and granting them new hearings, but states like Louisiana refused to do so.

The decision made on Monday now requires all states to apply the rules from the cases, which includes Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota, and Colorado retroactively. Now hundreds of people who were sentenced to die in prison for crimes when they were children are now being offered new sentencing hearings.

Judge Kennedy states that the case rulings bans life without parole sentences for all but the most rare circumstances amongst juvenile offenders because it rendered life without parole an unconstitutional penalty for ‘a class of defendants because of their status’ — that is, juvenile offenders whose crimes reflect the transient immaturity of youth.”

It is important that states provide an opportunity for release  “to those who demonstrate the truth of Miller‘s central intuition — that children who commit even heinous crimes are capable of change.”

(Photo credit: NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

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