On Nov. 10, Dawn Blagrove of Emancipate NC presented oral arguments to North Carolina Supreme Court Justices about the racial justice consequences of life-without-parole sentencing in juvenile cases. (Supreme Court of North Carolina)
RALEIGH, N.C. -- The North Carolina Supreme Court heard oral arguments this week on the racial disparities involved in sentencing kids under 18 to life without parole.
Research shows the sentences are disproportionately used in cases involving young people of color. In North Carolina, Black and brown kids make up more than 90% of those serving life-without-parole sentences.
Dawn Blagrove, executive director of Emancipate North Carolina, made oral arguments on behalf of Darrell Tristan Anderson, a North Carolina man convicted of murder at age 17 who is serving a life-without-parole (L-WOP) sentence.
"North Carolina ranks among ten states that combine to account for 85% of juvenile L-WOP sentences nationwide," Blagrove reported.
Blagrove added she hopes the court will determine no juvenile should serve longer than 25 years before becoming parole-eligible, and those currently serving out their sentences will have an opportunity to experience a meaningful life outside of prison.
Blagrove explained the stark racial disparities seen in life-without-parole sentences are often attributed to higher conviction rates for non-white youths, and to racial bias in how youths of color are charged with crimes.
"There's no way to claim equity or fairness in a process when the results so disproportionately deny life and liberty to black children," Blagrove asserted. "The United States is, shamefully, one of only four countries in the entire world that still imposes L-WOP for juveniles."
Since the 1990s, North Carolina has sentenced 94 minors to life without the possibility of parole. Blagrove argued the color of a child's skin should not be predictive of whether they receive the harshest punishment for a crime.
"In doing so, North Carolina has sent a message that these children's lives have no meaningful value and that they can be disposed of," Blagrove contended.
As of last year, more than 1,400 people were serving juvenile life without parole sentences nationwide. A growing number of states have passed laws prohibiting these sentences for juveniles, according to The Sentencing Project.
Public News Service is a member of The Trust Project. The Trust Project is a global consortium of news organizations that implement standards of transparency, called Trust Indicators, to help audiences evaluate the quality, integrity and reliability of journalism.