Law and Disorder Radio – US Leads the World in Sentencing Children to Life Without Parole – Bernadine Dohrn on the History of Child Incarceration – Hosts: Dalia Hashad, Heidi Boghosian, Michael Steven Smith & Michael Ratner – Produced by Geoff Brady

Law and Disorder Radio


Children In Conflict With The Law: The U.S. Leads The World In Sentencing Children To Life Without Parole

There are more than 2000 child offenders serving life without parole sentences in U.S. prisons for crimes committed before they reached the age of 18. The United States is one of few countries in the world that permit children to serve a life sentence without parole. Forty-two states currently have laws allowing children to receive life without parole sentences. The Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified by every country in the world except the United States and Somalia, forbids this practice, and at least 132 countries have rejected the sentence altogether.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have published a 130 page report on this topic called The Rest of Their Lives. The statistics are staggering and include four juvenile offenders in South Africa, one in Tanzania and five in Israel. It is based on self-reported cases found in these countries’ reports to the U.N. International Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). While many of the child offenders are now adults, 16 percent were between 13 and 15 years old at the time they committed their crimes. An estimated 59 percent were sentenced to life without parole for their first-ever criminal conviction.

Alison Parker historically references where these laws came from. In the United Kingdom the sentence was known as “Detention During Her Majesty’s Pleasure,” the only sentence available to the courts for a person convicted of murder who was aged over 10 but under 18 at the time of the offense.

Guest – Alison Parker, Senior Researcher at Human Rights Watch. Alison says she is among many helping to change the legislation that incarcerate children permanently without rehabilitative options.

Guest – David Berger, attorney with O’Melveny & Myers. David is a former researcher for the Amnesty International report.


Bernadine Dohrn

Bernadine Dohrn joins Law and Disorder to discuss juvenile justice and the development of Draconian laws for children in conflict with the law. Bernadine is a clinical professor at the Children and Family Justice Center at Northwestern University in Chicago. Bernadine is also the former leader of the Weathermen. She now serves on the board of numerous human rights committees and teaches comparative law. Since 2002, she has served as a Visiting Law Faculty at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam.