This is the first in an occasional series of articles that will examine commonplace aspects of the
American justice system that are actually unique in the world.
October 17, 2007
Lifers as Teenagers, Now Seeking Second Chance
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — In December, the
took up a resolution calling for the abolition of life
imprisonment without the possibility of parole for children and young teenagers. The vote was 185 to 1, with
the United States the lone dissenter.
Indeed, the United States stands alone in the world in convicting young adolescents as adults and
sentencing them to live out their lives in prison. According to a new report, there are 73 Americans serving
such sentences for crimes they committed at 13 or 14.
Mary Nalls, an 81-year-old retired social worker here, has some thoughts about the matter. Her
granddaughter Ashley Jones was 14 when she helped her boyfriend kill her grandfather and aunt — Mrs.
Nalls’s husband and daughter — by stabbing and shooting them and then setting them on fire. Ms. Jones
also tried to kill her 10-year-old sister.
Mrs. Nalls, who was badly injured in the rampage, showed a visitor to her home a white scar on her
forehead, a reminder of the burns that put her into a coma for 30 days. She had also been shot in the
shoulder and stabbed in the chest.
“I forgot,” she said later. “They stabbed me in the jaw, too.”
But Mrs. Nalls thinks her granddaughter, now 22, deserves the possibility of a second chance.
“I believe that she should have gotten 15 or 20 years,” Mrs. Nalls said. “If children are under age, sometimes
they’re not responsible for what they do.”
The group that plans to release the report on Oct. 17, the Equal Justice Initiative, based in Montgomery,
Ala., is one of several human rights organizations that say states should be required to review sentences of
juvenile offenders as the decades go by, looking for cases where parole might be warranted.