Pope Francis met with representatives of the International Association of Penal Law on October 23, 2014. During the meeting, the Pope stated that criminal penalties should not apply to children and that “[a]ll Christians and people of good will are thus called today to struggle not only for abolition of the death penalty, whether it is legal or illegal and in all its forms, but also to improve prison conditions, out of respect for human dignity of persons deprived of their liberty. And this, I connect with life imprisonment….Life imprisonment is a hidden death penalty.” Francis X. Rocca, Pope Francis Calls for Abolishing Death Penalty and Life Imprisonment, Catholic New Service.
Prior to the meeting, The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth sent a number of letters from people serving life without parole for acts committed while they were children, and the Pope acknowledged receipt of the letters. See the excerpts, the Pope’s letter, and other information here.
According to Amnesty International, “[t]here are least 2,500 people in the US serving life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for crimes committed when they were under 18 years old. The United State is believed to stand alone in sentencing children to life without parole. Although several states technically permit the practice, Amnesty International knows of no cases outside the US where such a sentence has been imposed in recent years.”