EAJP Issues Press Release on Historic Life Without Parole Ruling in Massachusetts

January 28, 2024

The Columbia Justice Lab praises a historic Massachusetts court ruling that determines Life Without Parole sentences for people under age 21 are unconstitutional.

Read the Emerging Adult Justice Project's full press release. Below is an excerpt from the press release.

On January 11, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) ruled that life without parole sentences (mandatory or discretionary) imposed for crimes committed before a person’s 21st birthday are unconstitutional because they violate Article 26 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights. The SJC ruling in Commonwealth vs. Mattis encompassed two cases of young people, one age 18 and one 19 at the time of the offenses, who were sentenced to life without parole (LWOP). The Emerging Adult Justice Project (EAJP) at Columbia Justice Lab praises this decision, which follows in the tradition of a series of landmark U.S. Supreme Court cases where the justices found it cruel and unusual to submit minors to automatic LWOP in part because of youths’ ongoing development and potential to change, as well as previous Supreme Judicial Court cases.

“The Massachusetts court sought input from experts to better understand the developmental realities for people between the ages of 18 and 21,” said EAJP Director Lael Chester. “The years of emerging adulthood are a time of intensive brain development. These young people are wired for impulsivity, not fully able to think through consequences, and heavily influenced by peers. Like people under age 18, emerging adults are highly likely to desist from crime as they mature. The court is granting emerging adults an opportunity to someday demonstrate to a parole board that they have matured and changed for the better. Science and justice are both clear that this is the minimum they deserve.”