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The United States is the only country in the world that allows imposition of juvenile life without parole (LWOP) sentences. This sentencing scheme was born out of the 1990’s “tough on crime” era, when society held the belief that juvenile offenders were “super-predators” and should face adult time for adult crimes. Throughout the years, the Supreme Court has faced numerous cases regarding juvenile LWOP, leading to its 2021 Jones v. Mississippi decision, holding that juveniles may be sentenced to LWOP so long as “youthful qualities,” such as immaturity, recklessness, susceptibility to negative influence, are first considered in sentencing. Today, the LWOP sentence remains available for juveniles based on the court’s discretion.

Juvenile LWOP is problematic due to both its ignorance of modern child psychology research and its discriminatory effects on Black juveniles. This Note combines these issues to bring forth a disparate impact claim under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. While disparate impact claims rarely prevail in the judicial system, this constitutional framework provides significant support for legislators to act urgently to abolish juvenile LWOP.


Civil Rights and Discrimination | Criminal Procedure | Juvenile Law | Law