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ACLU Tells Michigan No More Life Without Parole For Kids

ACLU Tells Michigan No More Life Without Parole For Kids

Despite the fact that the Supreme Court ruled in May that it is cruel and unusual punishment to sentence juvenile offenders who did not commit homicide to life in prison without parole, the state of Michigan continues to sentence citizens to life in prison without the possibility of parole for crimes committed when they were minors.  The practice is the subject of a lawsuit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Michigan and was filed on behalf of nine Michigan citizens.

Michigan law requires that children as young as 14 who are charged with certain specific felonies be tried as adults and, if convicted, sentenced without judicial discretion t life without parole.  That means that judges and juries have no ability to take into account the universally-acknowledged reality that children bear less responsibility for their actions and have a greater capacity for change, growth and rehabilitation than adults.

According to the suit, the Michigan sentencing practice denied the now-adult plaintiffs an opportunity for parole and a fair hearing to demonstrate their growth, maturity and rehabilitation.  As a result the Michigan sentencing practice constitutes cruel and unusual punishment and is unconstitutional.  This was the basis of the Supreme Court’s May ruling holding such sentences as unconstitutional, and should be the basis for changing the practice in Michigan.

The U.S. is the only country in the world that sentences youth to life without parole.  Michigan incarcerates the highest number of people serving life sentences without parole for crimes committed when they were 17 years old or younger.  According to the ACLU, there are currently 350 individuals serving such mandatory life sentences in Michigan, including more than 100 individuals who were sentenced to life without parole who were present or committed a felony when a homicide was committed by someone else.

The ACLU is asking the court to declare that denying children a meaningful opportunity for parole is not only a violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, but international human rights law as well.

The simple fact is this is a practice the Supreme Court rightly outlawed in Graham v. Florida and Roper v. Simmons.  The idea that this country simply throws away children is not only appalling, it is for all intents and purposes un-American.  It’s a practice that must be completely eliminated from our criminal justice system as we rightly turn toward rehabilitation of our children and away from indefinite incarceration.

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71 comments

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10:28AM PST on Jan 9, 2011

Reading yet another comment from Michael Cunningham makes me know that my prior opinion about him is valid. Why is this troll, who does not care about humaneness, on a "Care2" website?

Well, Michael, the reason we don't throw away the key on children, is that they are immature, and we may be able to help them learn how to live productive lives. Did you know everything and do everything correctly at 17? You have no soul. You see everything in black and white. I am sorry for your sorry life. But people like you scare me, because you have the right to vote in like-minded individuals of your ilk.

Jail is supposed to be about rehabilitation, not vengeance. We often don't live up to that standard, but we should keep striving to. THANK GOD FOR THE ACLU. I'm a proud card-carrying member. The fact that America is the ONLY country in the WORLD that incarcerates juveniles for life without parole puts us in fine company -- what? Uganda doesn't? and Thailand doesn't? and China doesn't? -- but we do?! You should be mightily ashamed of that fact, as I am. But I'm sure that you think everything America does is just fine, because we're so exceptional. Well, Michael, our Constitution is exceptional, our goals are exceptional, but the implementation of them, has much to work on.

5:30PM PST on Nov 28, 2010

"Somehow I feel there is no space in civilised society for "life without parole" for any criminal."

Why?

2:57PM PST on Nov 26, 2010

Detroit in particular is infamous for teen gangs killing and raping. What all of U are saying (?) is that we should let these murderous felons go free on their 21st birthday! Well gee that's great how many of U are willing to live in that city?? What I can't hear U!! All I hear is the gasping of the bleeding heart liberals,Oh no I can't do THAT!!! I say Put up or shut up! We all have to take responsibility for our actions. A 14,15,16, or 17 year old knowa exactly what they are doing when they pick up a gun and rob a store. They know it's wrong & they do it anyway... We baby these thugs and when they get out they do it again. look at the stats regarding repeat offenders!

5:02AM PST on Nov 26, 2010

I think the American court system needs reform overall. Their are plenty of people serving life sentences for cases that aren't murder, stealing or raping. In my opinion no drug related charge should put you into the court system unless you commit a worse crime under the influence such as violence or a sexual crime.

7:55PM PST on Nov 23, 2010

You know it's scary. Kids make tons of bad choices and some might make a single mistake and be condemned for the rest of their lives. Now just for a minute, imagine that child is yours or another relative that you love and could be in that position. Don't think, well my son is a good boy he would never do anything to get put in that position.You're wrong though as we know teens make bad choices all the time regardless how smart or good they are. They might just be along for the ride and something goes wrong. Believe me some of these kids doing time are innocent and what do they have now? We need to look for ways to save these children not throw then away.

5:24PM PST on Nov 23, 2010

a parole hearing is not an automatic get out of jail free card. that is your fail safe to make sure truly dangerous, sociopathic kids aren't released.

4:55PM PST on Nov 23, 2010

'Despite the fact that the Supreme Court ruled in May that it is cruel and unusual punishment to sentence juvenile offenders who did not commit homicide to life in prison without parole, the state of Michigan continues to sentence citizens to life in prison without the possibility of parole for crimes committed when they were minors. ...'

Who did NOT commit homicide. That means if I go with an idiot into a store and that idiot kills somebody because we are caught shop lifting then I do life in prison. Do the tax payers feel that is money well spent? or do they use prisoners as a source of slave labor.

11:16AM PST on Nov 23, 2010

I am all for giving parole to these murders, however.......when they are paroled they must go and live in an ACLU member's neighborhood, preferable right next door!

8:14PM PST on Nov 22, 2010

"Michigan law 'requires' that children as young as 14 who are charged with certain specific felonies be tried as adults and, if convicted, sentenced 'without judicial discretion' to life without parole. That means that 'judges and juries have no ability to take into account' the universally acknowledged reality that children bear less responsibility for their actions and have a greater capacity for change, growth and rehabilitation than adults."

The essence of problem addressed in the article lies in the above paragraph and especially in the words and phrases I have enclosed in ' '. It should not be the place of the legislature to tie the hands of judges and juries in such a manner. Often in a courtroom the technicality of guilt has been proven but the circumstances point to a different resolution than All Out Maximum Punishment. Undo these senseless expectorations from Grand Standing Politicians and return us to the days when the Judiciary had the leeway to handle each individual case as it did merit.

7:47PM PST on Nov 22, 2010

The "Possibility of Parole" does not mean a parole will ever be granted. What a shame on our country for it have completely given up on its youths, even these. The Justice System and houses of incarceration should be more concerned with Rehabilitation than "eye for an eye" punishment. If one person can never be seen to change, keep that one in, if another can be seen to change, let that one out. Use good sense and love toward all.

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