Statement in Support of the Elimination of Juvenile Life without Parole Sentencing
As organizations, experts, professionals, and individuals working in communities across Michigan, we support abolishing the sentence of life without parole (LWOP) for youth who committed their offense before the age of 18.
The goal of protecting our communities and ensuring fair and just punishment is not served by the abandonment of our youth to life in prison without any meaningful opportunity for release. Society bears special responsibility for all of its youth and locking adolescents in an adult prison until they die, fails to meet this responsibility and ignores the special potential of youth for rehabilitation.
Michigan imposes its harshest sentences on adults and youth alike, without accounting for an adolescent’s lack of maturity and lesser culpability. Adolescents in Michigan are not allowed to vote, serve on juries, enter into a contract, quit school or avail themselves of other civil rights and privileges until they are 18. This is our State’s formal acknowledgement that children under 18 lack the experience, judgment and level of responsibility of an adult. Their treatment in the criminal system should be similarly age appropriate.
Scientific research confers that youth are fundamentally different from adults because of their immature brain development, as well as their weaker impulse control and reasoning abilities. The U.S. Supreme Court has found that systems, such as Michigan’s, that “fail to take defendants’ youthfulness into account at all” are flawed.
Juvenile LWOP is a cruel and inappropriate punishment for youth, as well as extremely costly to taxpayers. Michigan has the second highest rate of imposing this sentence on youth in the nation, spending approximately $12.7 million per year to incarcerate 362 people serving juvenile LWOP sentences. We are spending over $1.3 billion to incarcerate youths, without a review to determine if they have been rehabilitated, paid their debt to society and can be productive members of our communities.
The elimination of the juvenile life without parole sentence will end a punishment that has been recognized around the world to constitute a violation of human rights. Providing a second chance to youth to safely rejoin society upon a clear demonstration of maturity and remorse will serve to acknowledge young people’s unique capacity for growth and rehabilitation, and restore justice to the treatment of our youth.