In a series of decisions concerning child defendants, the United States Supreme
Court has embraced the understanding, based on adolescent brain
development, that the legal system must recognize children are different than
adults concerning criminal culpability and sentencing. That recognition, culminating
in Miller v. Alabama and Montgomery v. Louisiana, led to the opportunity
for thousands of individuals across the country, initially sentenced
to death-in-prison sentences when they were minors, to gain a meaningful
opportunity for release. These cases permanently banned mandatory life sentences
for children. In Virginia, the legislature now allows reconsideration
of these cases through hearings before the parole board, through which the
agency can consider these individuals for early release from incarceration.
The legislature mandated that the parole board consider the attributes of
youth not previously considered in these individuals’ original sentencings.
This article explores the ways in which some of these young people have
engaged in a journey of redemption that has led to their release on parole.
As a society, we have been overly reliant on extreme punishment and law
enforcement to address our failure to protect and support children in marginalized
communities. Some states are finally beginning to recognize the
flawed logic underlying these practices. Virginia has made positive strides to
reform the juvenile criminal legal system. The legislature mandated that
courts consider adverse childhood experiences, foster-care involvement, and
other hardships before sentencing young people to prison. These reforms are
a step towards developing evidence-based responses to criminal involvement
that hold young people accountable and consider the root causes of their
Julie E. McConnell,
Unshackled: Stories of Redemption Among Serious Youth Offenders,
Rich. Pub. Int. L. Rev.
Available at: https://scholarship.richmond.edu/pilr/vol25/iss2/5