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TitleThe Rest of Their Lives
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Page 1

The Rest of Their Lives
Life without Parole for Child Offenders in the United States

Amnesty International
Human Rights Watch

Page 2

Copyright © 2005 Human Rights Watch/Amnesty International.
All rights reserved.
Printed in the United States of America
ISBN: 1564323358
Cover photos: © 2005 Private
Cover design by Rafael Jimenez

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Page 83


Case Study: Trey J.

Trey J. was seventeen years old when he was convicted of felony murder for the underlying crime of robbery. He
attributed his crime to his need for money to support his drug habit. When he was interviewed for this report, he
explained that he and another boy had, “developed a ‘con scheme’ to get some money from another juvenile
under the pretext of selling him a gun.”182 He said that he accidentally squeezed the trigger during the
transaction, killing the victim.

Trey wrote about his life at the time of his crime, emphasizing, as he did in a later interview, the role of his drug
abuse: “My life situation at the time of my crime was not great but not awful either. I was more messed up than
my situation. My family was clearly dysfunctional though. I was a heavy drug and alcohol abuser and had been
for a few years prior to this crime. I was not in school as I was expelled a number of times and after I turned
seventeen truancy courts no longer had legal involvement in my school situation. I really was a mess, I had
several convictions of minor charges in my teen years concerning fights and drug and alcohol abuse, etc. . . . I
was just out of touch with reality and didn’t know how good I had it and how I could have really done something
with my life in light of the advantages and opportunities I had.”183

Violence is endemic in U.S. prisons.184 It affects all inmates, whether teenagers or adults.
But child offenders who enter adult prison while they are still below the age of eighteen
are “five times more likely to be sexually assaulted, twice as likely to be beaten by staff
and fifty percent more likely to be attacked with a weapon than minors in juvenile

182 Letter to Human Rights Watch from Trey J., Limon Correctional Facility, Limon, Colorado, March 1, 2004
(pseudonym) (on file with Human Rights Watch). Human Rights Watch also interviewed Trey in person on May
28, 2004 at Limon Correctional Facility, Limon, Colorado.
183 Ibid.
184 Statistics on sexual violence in U.S. prisons reveal a serious problem with all kinds of violence, especially
since sexual violence is so severely underreported. The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that there
were 3.15 allegations of sexual violence per every 1,000 inmates in 2004. See Allen J. Beck and Timothy A.
Hughes, Sexual Violence Reported by Correctional Authorities, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Office of Justice
Programs, July 2005, available online at:, accessed on August 1, 2005.
185 Martin Forst et al., “Youth in Prisons and Training Schools: Perceptions and Consequences of the
Treatment-Custody Dichotomy,” Juvenile & Family Court, vol. 4 (1989), p. 9. See also Jason Ziedenberg &
Vincent Schiraldi, “The Risks Juveniles Face When They Are Incarcerated with Adults” (Justice Policy Institute,
July 1997), available online at:, accessed on April 15, 2005.

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These chilling statistics testify to the inability of correctional authorities to provide safe
correctional environments for all prisoners—an inability that is itself a reflection of
prison overcrowding, staff shortages, and inadequate prison programming. Regardless,
all inmates, whatever their age, have the right to be free from threats to their physical
safety. Both U.S. constitutional law and international human rights law require
authorities to provide safe and humane conditions of confinement.186 Despite these
norms, not one of the offenders contacted for this report had managed to avoid violence
in prison.

Almost all youth offenders contacted for this report suffered physical violence at the

hands of other inmates. They rarely reported the assaults because of
the harm it would do to their reputations in prison, and because they
assumed correctional authorities would do little to rectify the
problem. For example, Michael S. was seventeen when he entered
prison. He wrote:

On several occasions I have been physically assaulted. I
reported the first assault, but from that point forward I
deduced that it was best to remain silent as I cannot afford
to be labeled [an informant] in my current circumstances.187

Sometimes guards are allegedly to blame for assaults on young
inmates. Joe L., who was nineteen when he entered prison, told a

researcher for this report that “a few times” he was “slammed pretty hard by the guards
here.”188 Another young man who was fourteen at the time of his offense and eighteen
when he entered prison said, “I was having problems from other inmates that were
violent to me and the staff wouldn’t move me, they left me there on purpose to be
abused by the other inmates.”189

186 See ICCPR, art. 7; Convention on the Rights of the Child, art. 37.
187 Letter to Human Rights Watch from Michael S., Kinross Correctional Facility, Kincheloe, Michigan, March 22,
2004 (pseudonym) (on file with Human Rights Watch).
188 Human Rights Watch interview with Joe L., Limon Correctional Facility, Limon, Colorado, May 28, 2004
189 Letter to Human Rights Watch from Javier M., Colorado State Penitentiary, Cañon City, Colorado, March 8,
2004 (pseudonym) (on file with Human Rights Watch).

Michael S. was
about sixteen in
this photo and
sixteen at the time
of his crime.
© 2005 Private.

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