Fair Sentencing of Children

In response to the American legal system's growing impulse throughout the 1990s and early 2000s to punish instead of rehabilitate youth, the CFJC helped form the Illinois Coalition for the Fair Sentencing of Children. Created in 2006, the Coalition is a group of attorneys, academics, child advocates, and concerned citizens committed to ensuring the fair treatment of children in our juvenile and criminal justice systems. 

The Coalition’s focus is the elimination of extreme sentences imposed on youth, including the sentence of juvenile life without parole (JLWOP), and encouragement of age-appropriate sentencing practices and court procedures that account for a child’s capacity for rehabilitation. The CFJC attorneys and students, through the Coalition, take a multifaceted approach to this issue — through litigation, policy reform, and outreach. 

Five CFJC clients, who were once condemned to die in prison, have now been given a renewed chance at life outside prison. All five were serving life sentences for crimes that occurred when they were children. After years of advocacy and support – after thousands of hours of research and hundreds of miles on the road; after many semesters of creative, tenacious and compassionate work by lawyers, law students, social workers, experts, and investigators – all five have now, finally, seen the past release its stranglehold on their futures and are working to rebuild their lives, reconnect with their families, and find ways to contribute to their communities. These complex and challenging cases have highlighted the importance of collaborating with law firm pro bono partners as well as local public defender organizations to ensure the highest levels of representation. 

But our work is not done. CFJC faculty, staff and students continue to provide direct representation for incarcerated people and amicus support in cutting-edge trial and appellate cases designed to encourage courts to recognize the categorically diminished culpability of youth in many different contexts.