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The Dilemma: Juvenile Lifers in the United States

The prevalence of juvenile offenders serving life sentences in the United States is alarming. Is it beneficial or detrimental to individuals and the prison system? The truth is, it’s damaging for both. The US is the only country in the world that allows and sentences juvenile offenders to life imprisonment without the chance of parole.


In 2020, a report released by the Department of Justice Studies at Montclair stated, University there are over 160,000 individuals across the country serving life sentences” and “a 50-year sentence for a 16-year-old can cost the state approximately $2.25 million.”


Graham v Florida (2010) ruled life sentences without the possibility of parole for non-homicidal juvenile offenders, violated the Eight Amendment, and therefore was unconstitutional.

Considering the Miller factors, Miller v Alabama (2012) ruled life sentences imposed on homicidal juvenile offenders are permitted. The Journal of Criminal Justice and Law states that immaturity, susceptibility to negative influence, and the potential for rehabilitation should be analyzed before sentencing the juvenile.

Most juvenile lifers in adult prisons get exposed to violent behavior and an environment detrimental to their progress. Experience behind bars serves as a motivation for juveniles to change. Emotional turbulence and a lack of motivation to improve are caused by this endless imprisonment at such a young age. As a result, youngsters tend to experience intense emotions that can lead to suicidal ideations and possible attempts.

Participating in behavioral changes and modification through prison programs should be used as an incentive for release. The behavioral patterns, program participation, and progress should be used to reevaluate juvenile life sentences. During sentencing, young offenders shouldn’t be subjected to a definite amount of time in prison. Instead, allowing for flexibility and giving them a chance to join society again serves as a motivation. Although this may not be the case for all juvenile offenders, the opportunity should be given.

State of vs. Aiden Fucci - On May 9th, 2021, Aiden Fucci, 14, stabbed Tristyn Bailey, 13 resulting in her death. Fucci was indicted by a grand jury in St. Johns County, FL on a charge of first-degree murder on May 27th, 2021. Fucci was tried as an adult due to the circumstances of the charge and the specifics of the case. He, later on, pleaded guilty to the account without being offered a plea deal by the state. On March 24th, 2023, Aiden Fucci, now 16 years old, was sentenced to life in prison and will be eligible for a sentencing review after serving 25 years.

A defense memorandum was written by the public defender assistant assigned to Aiden Fucci’s case before the sentencing hearing. This document outlined circumstances that should be considered before sentencing the defendant. The defendant’s age and maturity, family dynamics and home environment, immature behavior and exposure to negative influences, engagement in activities inappropriate for his age, learning disability and ADHD concerns, severe mental health issues requiring medication, respectful behavior during court appearances and towards the people present in the court, possibility to undergo successful rehabilitation, and his apology to the victim’s family despite them not accepting it. Reflecting on other cases involving juveniles charged with homicide, the public defender assistant presented a 40-year sentence with a review after 25 years instead of a life sentence with a review after 25 years. Fucci will have the ability to participate in different programs that would be beneficial if he were to get a 40-year sentence, but those programs would not be offered to him if he was serving a life sentence.

In the case of Aiden Fucci, despite his horrific crime, he should be given a 40-year sentence with a review after 25 years. His mental health concerns and needs will not be addressed appropriately, nor will he obtain an adequate education while serving a life sentence. Putting his heinous crime aside, Fucci is still a 16-year-old kid. At such a young age, he shouldn’t be placed in an environment with hundreds of adult men. Fucci has the right to increased support, mental health care, educational resources, and primary therapy or psychiatric interventions. Spending the rest of his life, most likely behind bars in prison, and at the same time having little to no access to these resources will be detrimental and almost torture for Fucci. In addition to the pain and anguish felt by the victim’s family, Fucci’s family is also living in grief, sadness, and complete astonishment. Despite what others say, Aiden Fucci shouldn’t spend the rest of his childhood and adulthood in prison. He should be given every opportunity to become a better person and change his ways. Everyone deserves a second chance.

Edited by: Whitney Edna Ibe and Hilda Harb

Photo: Lisa Larson-Walker (ProPublica)


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