Michigan Should Repeal Juvenile Sentences of Life Without Parole

In Michigan, more than 300 juveniles have been sentenced to life without parole. More than 300 kids thrown away. Michigan should give them a chance to earn their freedom.

Michigan's notorious juvenile lifer law has brought international shame to the state and contradicted common sense, legal traditions and public opinion. ... Bills now before the Senate Judiciary Committee would prohibit life-without-parole sentences for juveniles and give those now serving those sentences a chance at parole after 10 years.

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These bills would not, by themselves, release anyone. But they would at least give prisoners with life sentences as juveniles a chance at parole. That's a reasonable change, consistent with medical research that shows that teenagers are more impulsive and unstable than adults, even without the abuse and neglect many have suffered.

Life without parole is the maximum adult penalty in Michigan. But juveniles don't have the same legal rights and responsibilities as adults because they lack the maturity and judgment to handle them. Nor should they generally pay the same consequences for crimes. That's partly why a conservative U.S. Supreme Court threw out the death penalty for juveniles.

Politicians of both parties have pandered to "lock 'em up" voters since the Age of Reagan. Swollen prison budgets expose the pricetag of pandering. The greater cost is the lost value of those individuals who, regardless of their actions as juveniles, are capable of growing into a mature, responsible adulthood. Denying the possibility of rehabilitation and forgiveness to a child devalues all children. Michigan should repeal life without parole for juvenile offenders.

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  • Display: Sort:
    What do they have to do to get (none / 0) (#1)
    by nycstray on Fri Oct 31, 2008 at 09:11:11 PM EST
    life without parole?

    Depends (none / 0) (#2)
    by jarober on Fri Oct 31, 2008 at 09:53:25 PM EST
    Whether such a sentence is warranted depends on what each juvenile did to draw the sentence.  In the absence of such information, it's impossible to say whether those sentences are just or unjust.

    well, technically speaking, (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by cpinva on Fri Oct 31, 2008 at 10:22:46 PM EST
    no, it doesn't.

    the blunt facts are:

    they can't vote.

    they can't marry.

    they can't drink.

    they can't sign a binding contract.

    they can't even join the military on their own.

    if we don't give them the same rights as adults, then we have no business charging them with the same responsibilities as adults, regardless of the crime. the two are mutually inclusive.

    pandering to the "lock 'em up and throw away the key" crowd is lucrative, for both politician and campaign contributor. unfortunately, the same can't be said for the rest of society.


    Murder? (none / 0) (#4)
    by nycstray on Fri Oct 31, 2008 at 11:29:26 PM EST
    They may not have the right to vote, etc, but they are still capable of some pretty horrible crimes, technically.

    I see a middle ground. There may be some (more than likely many) that should have a chance at rehab and a new life, but I would hate to make that a blanket statement. A birth date shouldn't be the end all anymore than catering to the lock 'um all up crowd mentality. If a 17yo commits a crime that would get him no parole as an adult, is 6 months going to make him that much more mature that he might not have done it? I'd also feel better knowing if the prison system actually worked towards rehab. Are violent juvenile offenders getting what they need to restart life in the Mich prisons?

    I should say, I'm making the assumption (yes, I know!) that these kids have done some pretty horrible things to get life without parole. I'm making a second assumption that they need some serious help. My third assumption is the prison system isn't able to provide the help they need equally from prison to prison.


    I disagree. (none / 0) (#5)
    by JamesTX on Sat Nov 01, 2008 at 01:32:53 AM EST
    I think it is possible to say they are unjust, based on the fact that they are children. The conservative movement has tried to take us back two centuries in all facets of social reasoning, but they can't undo what has been learned about development by science.

    The criterion here is not a matter of how repulsive the kids' acts appear to you or to anyone else. It is not a matter of how angry they make you. It is not a matter of missing information. It is a matter of humanity and ethical principles regarding the treatment of the young in our society -- a class of people who are vulnerable and have less culpability because of less life experience to begin with, and because of biologically limited ability to reason about their own actions.

    If we can hold ourselves so obsessively and insanely to some principle of justice such as being sure that every guilty person is severely punished (even if it means many innocents are also punished), then we can also obsess ourselves with some equally important principles about the sanctity of childhood and the ethical treatment of vulnerable groups.

    We have seriously lost our way on this issue, and it is a sign of moral decay. This is the kind of twisted conservative thinking that absolutely must be turned around if we are to recover from the dark conservative philosophy which has ruined us economically and is threatening to ruin us spiritually. The expanding practice of trying children as adults absolutely must be reversed and held up as a symbol of the darkest period of our era -- a sign of the day we forgot what it means to be human.


    Yeah.... (none / 0) (#6)
    by NYShooter on Sat Nov 01, 2008 at 02:03:50 AM EST
    The whole prison thing in the U.S. sucks. The arbitrariness of who goes, and for how long, is a big problem.

    And something that's bugged me for a long time: My concept of what a prison should be is that its a place where convicted people, whose punishment was supposed to be (just)the loss of their freedom, are securely housed.

    That's the deal; you commit a crime of a certain severity, we take away your freedom. Sounds pretty reasonable to me; so why are so many prisoners in my opinion, also tortured?

    I really don't want to get into a discussion of laws, or statutes, or definitions. I'd just like to know why we permit, on a massive scale, rapes, beatings, subjugation, bullying, humiliation, sadism, and just so many different forms of abuse, both physical and psychological, on people whose punishment was supposed to just be the loss of their freedom? We don't tolerate those crimes in our country, why do we permit, even condone, them in prison?

    I mean, I know all the one-line rationales, but that just bullsh*t. It's the same myopic, blind eye we had for African Americans, women (we've still got a long way to there,) handicapped, etc. Most everyone knows the saying, "you can tell a lot about a country by how it treats its least fortunate." (Or something like that)

    As  a native born Russian, I like the description one of my more cynical friends, still living there, wrote me: " America is like the handsome, tuxedo clad groom standing ram-rod straight up on a cake..........while wearing sh*t stained underpants."

    Even if there's only a 1 in a 100 chance... (none / 0) (#7)
    by marian evans on Sat Nov 01, 2008 at 02:24:15 AM EST
    of rehabilitation that should mean that that one kid should be given an opportunity to apply for parole.

    This is not saying that those who should not be released into the community would be released, but that those capable of rehabilitation be offered that as a possibility.

    Throwing away the key seems a simple-minded response to a complex problem.

    of course it is. (none / 0) (#8)
    by cpinva on Sat Nov 01, 2008 at 04:28:11 AM EST
    Throwing away the key seems a simple-minded response to a complex problem.

    politicians like simple-minded responses, they don't have to work hard, and they make great 30-second sound bites during campaigns. whether they actually accomplish anything positive is completely irrelevant, to the politician and most of his/her constituents, somethings "been done!".

    sure they are:

    They may not have the right to vote, etc, but they are still capable of some pretty horrible crimes, technically.

    no one ever claimed they weren't. that doesn't change the basic fact that they are still children; not fully developed physically, intellectually or emotionally. they lack (and some never develop) the thought processes of a mature adult. that's why we don't allow them to do all those things i listed above.

    to treat them as adults might make you feel better, but it defies both logic and science.


    Maybe if we treated adults better? (none / 0) (#9)
    by Fabian on Sat Nov 01, 2008 at 12:08:44 PM EST
    And actually used incarceration as an opportunity to educate, diagnose & treat mental illnesses and otherwise rehabilitate inmates?

    Considering that the inmate population is where many of our illiterate and mentally ill are found, it would make sense to help them.


    Something does not make sense (none / 0) (#10)
    by nyjets on Sat Nov 01, 2008 at 01:55:32 PM EST
    Points to consider:

    1. Being given a second chance should not be a given right to every murder and criminal. It should be a privilege given based on the crime intself. If the crime was heinous, no second chancen should be given.

    2. Being young should not automatically grant a person a second chance. WHile it can be a mitgating factor, it should not be the end all be all. If a heinous crime is commited by a person, and the only mitgating factor is age, the person should get life. That means young people as well.

    3. A victim and their families are entitled to justice. By saying that children should not get life without parole denies justice to the victim and their families.

    Last point, society is not throwing away the lifes of young murders and crimnals. THe young murder and criminals threw their own lives away, as they threw the lives of there victims as well.

    Hm (none / 0) (#11)
    by Steve M on Sat Nov 01, 2008 at 05:58:06 PM EST
    You're entitled to disagree, of course, but you haven't really made any arguments here; you've simply assumed a number of conclusions.