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Locked up for Life

Some were locked up when they were as young as 14 or 15, sentenced to life without parole for murder and other serious crimes committed as juveniles. Now dozens of former teen offenders are getting a shot at a second chance after Supreme Court rulings set out the possibility of freedom for these inmates, many now in their 50s, 60s and 70s. The court says young offenders should be treated differently than adults. But prison gates don’t just swing open.

Parole for young lifers inconsistent across US

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Courtroom 801 is nearly empty when guards bring in Bobby Hines, hands cuffed in front of navy prison scrubs.

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Teen criminals savor freedom as parole ends life sentence

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WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — It’s just a few blocks from the house Earl Rice Jr. left behind as a teenager to the places he remembers. But after more than four decades in prison, he has ground to cover.

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Voices in the debate over juvenile sentencing

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Losing grandpop

Nearly 40 years after Eugene DeLuca was shot to death during a robbery, his granddaughters stood in a hushed Philadelphia courtroom.

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The judge and the inmate

More than 20 years after Jennifer Pruitt was ordered to spend the rest of her life behind bars, she sat down in a Michigan prison with the judge who sent her there.

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The soon-to-be parolee

At 48, Damion Todd knows family and friends his age who are already looking ahead toward retirement. He’s dreaming of his freedom. 

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A victim turns reformer

Legislator Rebecca Petty considers herself tough on crime, but she also was a key mover in pushing to end juvenile life without parole in Arkansas.

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In for life, out of time

Talking with Robert Howard, the man, made it hard to see him as the 15-year-old who landed in prison for life.

Q&A: A look at action around tough sentencing of juveniles

In the past decade or so, the U.S. Supreme Court and state legislatures have taken steps to scale back the most extreme punishments for juvenile criminals. Here’s how the laws have changed and some reasons why teens who were sentenced to life without parole are now getting a second chance.

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Supreme Court rulings related to juveniles

Roper v. Simmons

This decision banned the death penalty for those under the age of 18. Prior to the ruling, 16 and 17 year olds were eligible for capital punishment in some states.

Graham v. Florida

The decision prohibited life-without-parole sentences for juveniles in cases that did not involve murder.

Miller v. Alabama and Jackson v. Hobbs

The decision prohibited mandatory life without parole for juvenile homicide offenders, allowing the sentence only in rare cases after consideration of a teen’s circumstances and potential for change.

Montgomery v. Louisiana

The decision made clear that the ban on mandatory life without parole in juvenile homicide cases applied retroactively, giving more than 2,000 inmates a chance for reconsideration.

High court juvenile lifer ban spurs wider review of cases

BALTIMORE (AP) — A U.S. Supreme Court decision triggering new sentences for inmates serving mandatory life without parole for crimes committed as juveniles has had a far greater effect.

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Prisons, nonprofits coach juvenile lifers to rejoin society

What happens when an inmate locked up at 16 or 17, and never expecting to get out, is released into a very different world at 50, 60 or older?

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‘We made it’: Imprisoned at 15, lifer goes free at 43

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DETROIT (AP)  — Bobby Hines stepped forward, smiling as he embraced the sister of the man he was convicted of killing.

Locked up for 28 years, he’d long wanted to meet Valencia Warren-Gibbs, to talk with her about that night in 1989 when her older brother, James, was shot after Hines and two others confronted him in a feud over drugs.

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50-state examination

The AP spent months reviewing how counties and states are wrestling with re-examining juvenile life without parole. While some have resentenced and released juvenile lifers locked up for years, others have resisted taking action as battles continue in legislatures and courts.

Michigan on map

Michigan has 363 inmates.

About 86 juvenile lifers have been sentenced to a term of years, 47 of whom became immediately eligible for parole, according to defense lawyer Deb LaBelle. Twenty-two have been released.

After the 2012 ban on mandatory life without parole for juveniles, state lawmakers passed a measure that said if the ruling became retroactive and if the prosecutor didn't seek a no-parole term within a certain amount of time, the inmates must be resentenced to a minimum 25 to 40 years and a maximum of 60 years. The 2016 decision by the nation's highest court to apply the ban retroactively led to the resentencings, which began last September.

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Florida on map

Florida has about 600 inmates.

RESENTENCED OR RELEASED Florida no longer has parole, so addressing these cases has been tricky. 

LAW In 2014, legislators changed the law to give juveniles, including those serving life sentences, an opportunity to have their sentences automatically reviewed by a judge after 15, 20 or 25 years served, depending on the crime.

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Take a look at how each of the 50 states is handling cases of inmates sentenced as juveniles to serve life without parole.

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Decades ago in the tough-on-crime ‘80s and ‘90s, many states — stoked by fears of teen “superpredators” — enacted laws to punish juvenile criminals like adults. The U.S. became an international outlier, sentencing offenders under 18 to live out their lives in prison for homicide and, sometimes, rape, kidnapping, armed robbery.

There has since been a shift. Five years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court banned mandatory life without parole for juveniles in murder cases. Then last year, the court went further, saying the more than 2,000 already serving such sentences must get an opportunity chance to show their crimes did not reflect “irreparable corruption” and, if not, have some hope for freedom.

The January 2016 ruling set the stage for an unprecedented second look at hundreds and hundreds of cases, some many decades old now, in courtrooms across America. The Associated Press leveraged its reporting power in all 50 states to examine how judges and prosecutors, lawmakers and parole boards are now revisiting juvenile lifer cases. Many have been resentenced and released, with more hearings continuing in the days, weeks and months ahead. But in some states, officials have delayed review of cases or fought to keep the vast majority of their affected inmates locked up for life.

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