In Tennessee today, children under the age of 18 can receive a life sentence without the possibility of being considered for parole until after they have served a minimum of 51 years – essentially a sentence of life without parole. This requirement means that children are losing the chance to rebuild their lives after one bad decision.
SB 69/HB 310, as amended, would change that, making such juveniles eligible for parole after they have served 30 years instead of 51.
This legislation impacts sentencing by recognizing that children’s prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that deals with impulse control, is not fully developed until age 25 and hinders their decision making, consideration of long-term consequences, and susceptibility to peer influence.
It also gives young people behind bars hope for a second chance, bolstering their participation in educational, vocational and other prison programs that help prepare them to become productive members of society one day.
The U.S. Supreme Court has recognized juvenile offenders are significantly different from adult offenders in terms of brain development and capacity to rehabilitate, declaring life sentences without parole for juveniles – which is what Tennessee’s current law amounts to – unconstitutional.
It also costs Tennessee taxpayers approximately $1.43 million to house just one juvenile serving a life sentence of 51+ years — money that could go instead to resources like education, healthcare and infrastructure.