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

criminal involvement.