We are an organization made up of families of victims who were murdered by juvenile offenders.
We formed in 2006 in response to an effort to overturn the sentences of those who murdered our loved ones. We have many members in many states. We also are deeply grateful for our strong allies in the law enforcement, prosecutor, public safety, and victims’ rights communities. Our first international chapter formed in 2011. Anyone who has lost a loved one to a teenage murderer, or is supportive of victims’ rights, is welcome to join us!
We understand that there is a robust national dialogue taking place on the issue of the sentencing of violent offenders, especially younger ones. In a democracy, public policy debates about how to best run our nation are completely appropriate. We insist that the victims and their families are key stakeholders in any discussion about the appropriate sentencing of those who murdered our loved ones. We further insist that all victims’ families must be found, notified, and invited to participate in that debate, as it is their right in all 50 states and federally, by Constitution or by statute.
We know that murder victims’ families, the crimes, the situations, the offenders, and our responses all vary widely. Such diversity demands that we stand not for one point of view but for each other as fellow murder victims’ families. We embrace anyone who has had a loved one killed by someone under age 18 – no matter the other details.
For example, we fully support these victims’ families who have chosen in conscience to advocate for freeing their loved ones’ killers.
We ask for your support. Join us by simply getting on our email distribution list or joining our closed Facebook group which is only for loved ones of those killed by juveniles. Ask your friends who care about public safety and victims of crime to spread the word.
We are an all-volunteer organization with no funding. Advocates for those who have murdered our loved ones have millions of dollars in foundation funding to advocate for the release of these murderers. Donations to NOVJM to help us support victims of teen killers are most welcome. Every penny of donations that we have received to date was either used to keep up this website, print materials for victim families, or in one case, assist a widowed member of NOVJM buy some groceries.
We Offer Ourselves
Victims’ families in NOVJM offer themselves as go-betweens and conduits of information between parties in a case. We believe the most important role we can play nationally is to provide the information victims’ families need when deciding how they want to handle the individual circumstances of the murders of their family members.
We sometimes get calls from offender representatives, which we respond to with kindness and respect. Sometimes they want to correct a published report on a defendant. Sometimes they want help in their cases, and we refer them to offender advocates we know who have the budget and staff to help.
Believe it or not, sometimes we get harassed and yelled at, and even blamed for the tough sentences given to convicted killers by friends or loved ones of those offenders. (Hence the removal of our “comments” page where we invited discussion on the issue. That became a forum for victims being yelled at – we finally removed it after years of having it on this site, sadly). We remind those folks that victims’ families do not arrest, try, convict or incarcerate violent offenders in this nation. Our collective national criminal justice system does that. Quite rightly. We urge those of you who are angry with grieving victims to show some compassion – put yourself in our shoes if you can. Don’t “blame the victim”. No one asks to be murdered. No one deserves to be murdered – no matter the circumstances. Work instead to prevent violence and help victims’ families to move forward in their lives. Work for Restorative Justice. Work to support the offender you love – that is an entirely good thing as well. But we would say to those who have sent mean-spirited communications to us that anger toward victims’ families only eats away at your own heart and soul. It destroys your own inner moral fiber and does not assist in the earlier release of the offender you care about. Try to rise above the tragedy you are caught up in, as we are trying to.
We want to also proactively offer this: If a defendant would like to get a message to a victim’s family and that message is appropriately sensitive and respectful and contains information the victim’s family might want to have, we are happy to assist. We can be the victim-sensitive conduit of information to a victim’s family when we evaluate the information as something the family might want to have. It is then THEIR decision what to do.
Some of NOVJM’s members have unsolved cases. In some of our members’ cases, the offenders were given minimal sentences. For other members, the offenders were given the maximum sentences. Between 1,000 and 1,500 offenders in the USA have been sentenced to Life Without the Possibility of Parole (LWOP) for murders they committed when they were juveniles under the age of 18. (Higher estimates of the number of these cases published by offender advocates have been disproven.) The acronym often used for that sentence is JLWOP – Juvenile Life Without Parole.
JLWOP is a rare and serious sentence reserved for some of the nation’s most violent offenders. Most JLWOP offenders have been incarcerated for committing unimaginably horrific and aggravated murders or multiple murders, as it is generally not possible for an offender of any age in the United States to receive a life without parole (LWOP) sentence for a single homicide without certain aggravating factors. Most offenders serving JLWOP actually committed the murder rather than being an accomplice. A smaller percentage of JLWOP recipients are accomplices considered equally culpable for the crimes. Currently, all offenders serving LWOP sentences for crimes committed as juveniles are murderers. The Supreme Court outlawed JLWOP for non-homicide offenses (mostly in Florida) in Graham v. Florida (2010).
The vast majority of violent juveniles are being treated in the juvenile system, quite appropriately. Only a few are tried as adults, and even then only very rarely does the teen offender receive a long or life sentence. There are only 1,300 cases of juvenile lifers in the USA in the last half-century.
We founded NOVJM because we believe:
1. Murder is the worst of all crimes.
2. Murder victims’ families and friends are traumatized, and damaged for life. They need to be supported and embraced by the community in their long post-homicide journey. All of their victims’ rights must be respected and enforced for the duration of that journey. This means for a lifetime. In these cases they have a right to be notified of all matters pertaining to their legal case in advance of the actions being taken, and they have a right to be heard, and to consult about the disposition of their case. They have a right to be protected from the offender, and to full restitution for the crimes.
3. Punishment for such serious crimes should be based on the culpability of the offender – their knowledge, premeditation, their intent, their disregard for human life, their individual circumstances, their consent, their choices, their actions, and the harm that they cause. Exterior factors such as their chronological age should not be the sole consideration.
4. We recognize that throughout the criminal justice system there are some offenders who are unjustly and inappropriately sentenced. The system provides means such as defense, appeals, clemency, etc., to try to prevent this from happening, and to correct it when it does.
However, to release hardened criminals who are likely to kill, rape, and in other ways harm again is not necessary in order to help those few unfairly imprisoned. To torture victims’ families with the repeated re-opening of these cases inflicts continued painful violence against those suffering the most. Most of these JLWOP receiving offenders committed truly indescribably awful crimes, ending the lives of wonderful and innocent people, and devastating the victims’ families and friends. Most of them demonstrated a high degree of culpability, enough to earn them a life sentence as an adult. The facts of these cases must not be forgotten. They should be primary in any public policy discussion about this issue.
Most murderers in this nation don’t even receive long or life sentences. The average term served nationally for murder is far less than 20 years. The number of offenders serving life sentences is a very small percentage of all those incarcerated. In state prisons, which contain about 90% of prisoners, the median amount of time murderers spend incarcerated is 13.4 years. The number of offenders serving life sentences for crimes committed as teens is extremely small. JLWOP is rare, as it should be. There are only 1,300 cases nationally, in an actual count done by states’ Attorneys Generals. The repeated claim made by offender advocates that there is a larger number of juvenile lifers, up to 2,800, is based on estimates with questionable accuracy. Those making this claim did not actually count the cases. (See actual count done of cases by Attorneys Generals in Adult Time for Adult Crimes.)
5. Advocates for the offenders must acknowledge that underlying the incarceration of these younger offenders are horrific crimes for which they are responsible. Advocates for the offenders must consider the full heinousness of these crimes and treat ALL their victims with sensitivity and respect.
6. The prison system does not work to rehabilitate as it should, so it is difficult to generalize that inmates get less violent over time. Many paroled violent offenders do kill again. We strongly support better prison programming, even for those that are serving life sentences. Programs are vital so that any offender that is to be released can be reasonably guaranteed not to violently re-offend. Recognizing that over 98% of all inmates do return to society at some point, we strongly support better prison programming. And even for those who serve life sentences, prisons should be flexible in offering rewards for better behavior with education, programs, and opportunities within the prison system.
7. We do not “give up” on any human being when we recognize the fact that a certain number of people are deeply and permanently dysfunctional, even from a younger age. There is no “cure” for being a sociopath and many JLWOP offenders are sociopaths.
8. We are permanently attached to this issue. Unwillingly, our fates have been linked forever to the fates of the offenders who took the lives of our loved ones. We will always be part of the public debate about what happens to those offenders. The offenders’ actions made this the case.
9. Some parole boards are notoriously ineffective in segregating out those who are sociopathic but clever and those who have been rehabilitated. It is very easy to behave well while in the controlled environment of a prison. Parole supervision is woefully underfunded and therefore we cannot always expect meaningful supervision. Worst of all, the parole process for victims is quite literally torture and it can substantially interfere with their ability to move forward in their lives. Surviving victims of such serious crimes have a right to legal finality. Victims have a right to not be forced to spend the rest of their lives re-engaging with the offenders, which is significantly re-traumatizing. Many states have done away with parole because it is wildly discriminatory and ineffective. These states have shifted to a system of determinate sentencing where the offender serves a set period of time and receives good time credit based on their behavior in prison. Many states have no parole and truth in sentencing rules for the most serious crimes such as aggravated murder.
10. Some convicted at a young age are themselves indeed “victims” of unfortunate circumstances, and through little to no fault of their own end up in trouble with the law. But on the flip side, some who kill at such a young age are demonstrating that they are genuinely violent or capable of violence for any number of reasons. There are many people who have sadness and dysfunction in their upbringing but who do not then turn around and hurt other people. In fact, most of those people do not.
11. Any reforms to JLWOP sentences should distinguish between relief for the wrongfully convicted and over-sentenced, and the truly guilty whose crimes merited the sentence.
12. Funding youth programs, increasing protections in the transfer mechanisms between juvenile and adult courts, supporting clemency decisions where appropriate, and ensuring enough money for good representation at the trial level are more effective mechanisms than parole hearings for reducing the population of offenders who serve JLWOP.
13. Retroactive proposals for reform must not violate victims’ rights to fully participate in advance of any decision to change the sentence, as is required by law. Victims must be found and notified and supported in order to participate in any proposed legislation that would retroactively change a sentence.
14. The families of victims whose murderers receive LWOP sentences often walk away from their trials believing the sentence to be permanent as promised. Evidence and records that would otherwise be saved, if it were known from the start that parole hearings for this family were in their future, are often not retained or even available. Witnesses may be dead or unable to be found. The retroactive injection of a parole process into a sentence of natural life puts victims’ families at a severe disadvantage.
What We Ask
We ask that victims’ families be fully included in the public policy debate surrounding teen killers. We ask for justice for the offenders in our loved ones’ murder cases. We ask that we not be mischaracterized as vengeful or unforgiving, or too emotional to participate in public policy decisions, as victims are often stereotyped to be.
Beyond that, it is hard to make broad and specific stances on what NOVJM thinks is the best policy for the sentencing of teen killers, as cases and states’ laws differ widely.
Victims’ views are also diverse. Most of us support the availability of the widest possible range of sentencing options for extremely violent teens, depending on the facts of the cases. Courts, judges, and juries need to have options when handling the individual facts of the cases before them. Many of us support reforming juvenile offender sentencing in this nation. Many of us support restorative justice. Some of us believe the Supreme Court should not have abolished the juvenile death penalty for those responsible for the most serious offenses. Many of us simply want to grieve in private and never have to interact with the offenders who so brutally ruined our lives again. Many of us are only concerned with public safety. Many of us are deeply traumatized by what has happened to our loved ones. Many of us are also committed to preventing future homicides, something we have experienced the horror of first hand. No one should ever have to go through what we have been through.
But ALL victims’ families, regardless of their position on JLWOP, must be included (consulted with and heard in) in the decisions about the sentences of the offenders in their cases.
And retroactive legislation that reduces offender sentences simply cannot be done constitutionally or fairly. Those who wish to change teen killer sentencing options in the USA need to do so prospectively only and rely on other “checks and balances” in the system to address other concerns they may have in offender sentencing.
Crime victims in the United States have rights. These rights include the right to be notified of, and meaningfully heard in, the proceedings that determine the fate of the offender. NOVJM was created to help protect those victims’ rights in the wake of an effort to free our loved ones’ killers. In 2005 after the Supreme Court outlawed the death penalty for juvenile murderers an effort to end all long prison sentences for these offenders began.
At the individual Victims Memorial Pages, we used to invite visitors to post sympathetic and supportive thoughts for the victims’ families. Only kind, caring, and positive comments were allowed on the Memorial Pages. Some other individual pages on the site allowed for comments. But, as described above, we had to stop allowing comments after being harassed by supporters of teen killers.
The term “victim” is not a term of dis-empowerment; it is a legal description of a person against whom a crime has been committed. There are primary and secondary victims. The primary victim in our situations are those murdered. We are the secondary victims, and fully victims under the law.
Some people use the word “victim” as a pejorative. (i.e. “Stop being a victim!) We cannot change the legal term for who and what we are. We are not asking for sympathy, we are asking for fairness and for the justice system to work in truth and in safety.
We are working to honor the memory of our murdered loved ones. Many of us work hard by focusing on crime prevention to make sure that no one else ever has to go through what we have had to go through.
Help us remind everyone what the word “victim” means.
I am not what happens to me. I am what I do with what happens to me.
Download a Handout distributed to the American Bar Association during their national conference gathering in Chicago, 2009, at their workshop on the sentencing of teen killers.
James Q. Wilson, a Harvard professor who has served on crime and drug commissions, makes an important statement about the general problem of crime in closing his book, Thinking About Crime:
“. . . some persons will shun crime even if we do nothing to deter them, while others will seek it out even if we do everything to reform them. Wicked people exist. Nothing avails except to set them apart from innocent people. And many people, neither wicked nor innocent, but watchful, dissembling, and calculating of their opportunities, ponder our reaction to wickedness as a cue to what they might profitably do. We have trifled with the wicked, made sport of the innocent, and encouraged the calculators. Justice suffers, and so do we all.”
We have worked hard to build this website and we used information on it that is verified in media and legal sources. If, however, any information is incomplete or inaccurate, or has changed, please contact us immediately at [email protected] with correction verification.