All Kids Sentenced to Die in Michigan Prisons Get Second Chance

363 men and women in Michigan are currently slated to die in prison because of tragic mistakes they made as kids.  In each of these cases, Michigan law gave the judge no choice but to automatically sentence them to life without even the possibility of parole.

Sound cruel and unusual? It is.

On Monday, a federal judge in Michigan issued the latest of two powerful takedowns of a Michigan law that ignores the fact that kids are still maturing and have a unique capacity for rehabilitation, and instead subjects children as young as 14 to mandatory life without the chance of parole for certain crimes. Michigan must now provide parole hearings and a realistic opportunity for release to each of these 363 men and women.

Viewed through any lens – our country’s enforcement of basic human rights, our treatment of children in the criminal justice system, our relationship to extreme punishment, etc. – this is a major win. But the sad truth is that this ruling rolls back a terrifying law that never should have been on the books in the first place.

This law has resulted in hundreds of children receiving sentences of mandatory life without the possibility of parole despite the global consensus that kids cannot be held to the same standards of responsibility as adults. And its existence is a revealing example of our troubling hypocrisy about the proper role of youth in the eyes of the law.  In the U.S., we prohibit children from voting, we shield kids from being drafted into the military, and we do not allow them to sit on juries, all because of their inherent immaturity.  Yet, in Michigan and across the nation, we allow courts to judge children as adults for their most misguided acts.

In February 2012, nine Michigan prisoners who were sentenced as children to die in prison challenged that law. In a major win, a federal judge correctly held in January of this year that Michigan’s law violates the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment by denying these individuals any meaningful opportunity at parole.

Following this decision, the Michigan attorney general took a rather curious position; namely, that, while the Court could grant relief to the handful of individuals in the lawsuit, its order did not apply any of the others who are serving the exact same sentence.

And that’s how we got here. In an order issued Monday, Judge John Corbett O’Meara made it crystal clear that this ruling applies to all prisoners in Michigan serving this unconstitutional sentence, regardless of whether they are plaintiffs in the lawsuit. As the judge forcefully stated in January, “to hold otherwise would be to allow the state to impose unconstitutional punishment on some persons, but not others, an intolerable miscarriage of justice.”

It’s about time for Michigan to abandon this shameful law, and give these hundreds of wrongfully sentenced prisoners a second chance.

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This one I can't say I agree on. In the end it really matters on the crime and the circumstances of the crime. If you have a teenager who kills someone in cold blood then that's it. I would prefer they simply be executed and be done with it because it's too easy to use the misguided kid argument when how many adults out there have been misguided all their lives yet do not receive a second chance simply because of their age when the crime was committed.

The thing is there are dangerous children out there and as hard as it is to accept that fact, not every child deserves a second chance. Some are just flat out cold blooded and vile human beings who should not be given the opportunity to harm others again. Some genuinely do deserve a second chance but the hat trick is actually figuring out which ones do and which ones do not. Ignorance is not a defense. Misguided behavior is not a defense. So if this ruling is to apply to teenagers that have committed violent crimes, this needs to apply to adults as well. However, it seems once children are the subject they are given far more sympathy and simply have their upbringing blamed. So basically blaming the parents instead of the child for the actions they've taken that got them life without parole in the first place.

When it comes to violent crimes, children who commit them do not discriminate on age when they commission crimes punishable by life without parole. The safety of the public is paramount nor should any human being, child or adult, be given the opportunity to kill someone again. Life is hard but honestly this world does not revolve around children. They are simply a part of it and should not be given special treatment because of their age when it comes to crimes such as cold blooded murder.


Now the families of victims who were murdered by criminals less than 18 year old will never get justice.
The victims of these murders will now know that the criminals who destroyed their lives will have a chance to get back on the streets and enjoy a nice happy live while their victims were denied their chance of a life.
The notion that people should be allowed to get away with murder just because they are under 18 is appalling.

Paula Sullivan, OKC

I empathize with those who've been victimized by young people. It's true that some children have violent propensities and require a higher degree of watchfulness by caretakers and communities, but it is erroneous to lock them up and throw away the key. Taking a different approach to the problem is not tantamount to not holding them accountable. We all share a degree of accountability for how we deal with members of our society. We degrade ourselves as a society the more we tend to view other people as less than human. We should strive for better human conditions universally, and it begins at the smallest level. We are more at risk personally and as a society at the hands of profiteers than these young people who can and do much less harm. There is an economic incentive to dehumanizing our vulnerable youth. We need to understand how much our encouragement and support of them can do, rather than our condemnation.

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