Locked up for life at 16. No possibility of parole. Christi Cheramie is living a nightmare.
When Christi was 16 years old, back in 1994, she couldn’t vote, drink alcohol, serve on a jury, or buy lottery tickets. She was considered a minor — a child. But that didn’t stop the state of Louisiana from giving this 16-year-old a sentence of life without parole.
Only in the U.S. — where children as young as 11 have faced life in prison — are such harsh sentences against juveniles allowed. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child prohibits life without parole for offenses committed under the age of 18. This is not about excusing or minimizing the consequences of crimes committed by children, but about recognizing that children are not yet fully responsible for their actions and have special potential for rehabilitation and change.
Christi, now 33 years old, has spent more than half of her young life in prison. She’s earned her high school equivalency diploma and an associate’s degree in Agriculture Studies, and teaches classes to her fellow inmates. A prison warden who oversaw Christi considers her a “model inmate” who has grown into a “remarkable young woman” deserving of “a second chance in society.”
But if we don’t act, a mandatory sentence of life without parole means that Christi will die in prison. A victim of sexual abuse and depression, and caught in the web of an aggressive and controlling older fiancé, Christi found herself at the grisly murder scene of her fiancé’s great aunt. She was charged with murder just for being there — even though it was her fiancé who wielded the knife.
The victim’s closest family members are sympathetic to Christi’s case. But Christi’s fate is now in the hands of Louisiana’s governor and Board of Pardons.
Our 2011 Write for Rights campaign highlighted Christi’s case, and thousands of letters have already poured into Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s office. Next week, the Board of Pardons will meet to decide whether or not to move forward with Christi’s clemency application — a decision that the governor can influence. We must keep the momentum going from Write for Rights — and the time to act is now!
Christi has already changed people’s lives through her work at the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women, but she will never be able to realize her full potential — and society won’t benefit from her potential contributions — if she spends the rest of her life behind bars.
It’s time for the U.S. to join the rest of the world and end the cruel and unusual punishment of juvenile life without parole. People convicted of crimes while still children — like Christi Cheramie — should be given a chance at rehabilitation. They shouldn’t be left to grow old in a jail cell.
You can make a difference in Christi’s case. Sign our petition now calling for clemency for Christi Cheramie.
Senior Director, Individuals at Risk Campaign
Amnesty International USA