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What is JLWOP?

JLWOP is when a judge sentences a child 17 years old or younger to life in prison without the chance of parole. This means a young person can spend their entire life in prison, and they will never have the chance to get out. This is wrong.

A child under 18 years old

A sentence of life in prison

No possibility of parole


What is Miller v. Alabama ?

In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled in Miller v. Alabama that mandatory JLWOP sentences were unconstitutional in the United States. The Court decided that the sentence was cruel and unusual punishment if judges had no choice and were required to give a life sentence because of mandatory minimums. In 2015, the Court made the Miller decision retroactive in Montgomery v. Louisiana, meaning that the decision also applied to people already incarcerated. Discretionary, or optional, JLWOP sentences were not federally banned, though the Court stated that they should be uncommon and rare.

Since 2012, many people who received JLWOP sentences before the court’s ruling have had a chance to be resentenced. Because of the Miller decision, a judge must consider special criteria related to age, upbringing, and context surrounding the crime and rehabilitation – called the “Miller factors” – in any sentencing hearing where a discretionary JLWOP sentence is on the table.

Where can children be sentenced to life without parole?

Judges can still legally sentence children to die in prison in many states. Yet, there is growing support for the abolition of JLWOP across the U.S. Illinois was the 26th state to ban the practice, and the list is growing.

Even in states like Illinois where reform has been successful, the work is not done. The 2023 Illinois legislation, for instance, was not retroactive. This means that without additional reforms, some young people sentenced or resentenced to discretionary life without parole before 2023 will not have an opportunity for release. 

How many people have been sentenced to JLWOP in Illinois?

Before the Supreme Court’s 2012 Miller decision, approximately 100 children in Illinois were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. As of November 2023, nearly 70 have had resentencing hearings and just over 50 have been released from prison. At least seven people have been exonerated due to wrongful convictions.

The United States is the only country in the world that continues to sentence children to die in prison. Yet, the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly emphasized that children are “categorically less culpable” than adults.

At Restore Justice, we recognize the importance of advocating for shorter, rehabilitative sentences for children and young people.

coming soon

storytelling project

In 2022, Restore Justice began a multi-year project to tell the stories of people who received life without parole sentences in Illinois as children. The project aims to share the insights and lived experiences of formerly and currently incarcerated people and their loved ones. We hope that these stories help policymakers and the public understand the impacts of lengthy incarceration and of the Illinois legal system. The project is also an opportunity to highlight the journeys of transformation and success of people who were formerly incarcerated.

Stay tuned! This project is underway now, and stories will begin appearing on our website in 2024.