The state of Michigan is ranked second in the nation for the number of people serving sentences of life without parole for crimes they committed while under eighteen. Michigan has sentenced over 350 juvenile offenders to life without parole, but new legislation could change that. Three bills proposed in June and currently under consideration in the House Criminal Justice Committee amend laws that affect juvenile lifers.
House Bill 4806 will permit the resentencing of a person formerly given mandatory life in prison without parole for a crime committed when the person was less than eighteen years old. House Bill 4807 prohibits the mandatory sentencing of juveniles to life without parole. And House Bill 4809 creates parole eligibility after fifteen years for juvenile lifers who are resentenced to life with parole.
In addition to changing sentencing guidelines, the bills would bring Michigan into line with federal law. In 2012, the US Supreme Court ruled that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for crimes committed by juveniles are unconstitutional. The court allowed for discretionary life-without-parole sentences but was clear that they should be rare.
Many states, most recently Connecticut and Wyoming, have passed similar legislation, based on the notion that sentencing for juveniles requires special consideration. Juveniles, who are still developing physically and psychologically, are less likely to appreciate risks and consequences. They are also the unwilling victims of brutal or dysfunctional home environments. In fact, the majority of juvenile lifers experience high levels of exposure to violence in their homes and communities, suffer physical and/or sexual abuse and face significant educational challenges, according to a survey from the Sentencing Project.
All men and women are created in the image of God and are capable of responding to forgiveness and grace. CBI is hopeful that these much-needed laws will be enacted and that they will positively impact people sentenced to life in prison as juveniles, as well as the families and communities they return to.
Read more about the legislation here.