portion of their sentence and reduces the discrepancy between the sentence imposed and the
actual time served in prison.”38 Most states that have a truth-in-sentencing law require offenders
to serve eighty-five percent of the prison sentence imposed on them.39 While the Supreme Court
has held that a juvenile’s mandatory sentence of life imprisonment violates the Eighth
Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, as well as “a particular term of
imprisonment in those exceptionally rare cases when the punishment is grossly disproportionate
to the offense,”40 youth are still subject to mandatory minimums that impose less than a life
sentence.41 States also have mandatory minimum sentences that vary depending on the nature of
the offense and perpetrator.42
As mentioned previously, however, “[t]he evidence indicates, repeatedly, that mandatory
minimum sentences will not reduce gun violence. On the contrary, such restrictions are not only
costly, but also counterproductive.”43 Studies show that youth who are transferred to adult
criminal court, particularly those who commit violent crimes, are much more likely to commit
another offense.44 Furthermore, “[d]evelopmental psychology offers evidence that ‘adolescent
choices about involvement in criminal activity may reflect cognitive and psychological
immaturity.’”45 Although the law generally recognizes reduced responsibility as a mitigating
factor in sentencing, the harsher sentences that emerged in the 1990s as a result of the high rate of
youth crime shifted juvenile justice policy in the United States away from viewing young
offenders as less culpable than adults, as they were generally thought to be when the juvenile
court was created.46
The juvenile court system was developed during the nineteenth century when public
opinion of how juveniles should be treated in the United States began to change. Social
reformers opened special facilities for juveniles who were troubled, specifically in larger cities
like New York and Chicago.47 Supporters of the juvenile facilities “sought to protect juveniles by
separating them from adult offenders.”48 These individuals also focused on rehabilitation of the
juvenile offenders and tried to help them “avoid a future life of crime.”49 “In 1899, the first
juvenile court in the United States was established in Cook County, Illinois,” and within twenty-five years, many states had developed their own juvenile court systems.50 The early juvenile
38 PAULA M. DITTON & DORIS JAMES WILSON, BUREAU OF JUSTICE STATISTICS, TRUTH IN SENTENCING IN STATE PRISONS 1 (1999),
39As discussed in more detail in the paragraph below, States were required to pass truth-in-sentencing laws in order to qualify for
[T]he U.S. Congress authorized incentive grants to build or expand correctional facilities through the Violent
Offender Incarceration and Truth-in-Sentencing Incentive Grants Program in the 1994 Crime Act ( Pub.L.No.
103-322, 108 Stat. 1796 (1994)). To qualify for the truth-in-sentencing grants, States must require persons
convicted of a Part 1 violent crime to serve not less than 85% of the prison sentence.
DITTON & WILSON, supra note 38, at 3.
40 DOYLE, supra note 33, at 25; Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2455, 2460 (2012).
41 KRISTY N. MATSUDA, THE IMPACT OF INCARCERATION ON YOUNG OFFENDERS 7 (2009), available at
42 KOLLMANN, supra note 32, at 3 (providing examples of state mandatory minimum sentences).
43 Id. at 1.
44 Redding, supra note 26, at 5.
45 Applegate & Davis, supra note 18, at 56; see also Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48, 68 (2010) (discussing developments in
psychology and brain science that continue to show fundamental differences between juvenile and adult minds).
46 A report from 2000 argued that juvenile justice “policies explicitly or implicitly present adolescent offenders as indistinguishable
from adult counterparts, and reject the importance of youthful immaturity in assignments of criminal responsibility.” Applegate &
Davis, supra note 18, at 56 (internal quotation marks omitted).
47 American Bar Association Division for Public Education, The History of Juvenile Justice, in Dialogue on Youth and Justice 1, 5
(2007) [hereinafter The History of Juvenile Justice], available at