A United Nations human rights expert strongly condemned the U.S. on Tuesday for being the “only State in the world that still sentences children to life imprisonment without the opportunity for parole,” thereby imposing cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment.
Juan Méndez, the Special Rapporteur on torture, made the comments in a report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva—building from his previous censure of cruel incarceration practices in a nation that locks up more people than any other country in the world.
Méndez noted that the U.S. practice of imposing life sentences on children in cases of homicide violates international law on numerous fronts, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
“Life sentences or sentences of an extreme length have a disproportionate impact on children and cause physical and psychological harm that amounts to cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment,” he wrote.
Such prison sentences are widespread.
Approximately 2,500 people in the U.S. are currently serving life sentences without parole for crimes allegedly committed as juveniles, the Sentencing Project finds (pdf).
These sentences reflect—and reinforce—racial disparities in U.S. society. “White juvenile offenders with African-American victims are only about half as likely (3.6%) to receive a [juvenile life without parole] sentence as their proportion of arrests for killing an African-American (6.4%),” the Sentencing Project notes.
However, the injustices do not stop there.