We, the undersigned retired judges from communities across Michigan, write in support of changing state laws to ensure that all individuals given a life sentence for crimes committed before the age of 18 receive a periodic and meaningful opportunity for release.
As those who have served as prosecutors and judges, we are well aware of the need to protect our community and ensure that individuals who commit serious offenses are sentenced appropriately. We question, however, whether sentencing children to life in prison without any hope for release is truly fair and just punishment. Society bears special responsibility for all young people, and incarcerating children in adult prison until they die fails to meet this responsibility, and fails to consider whether the individual is safe to return as a productive member of our community.
Scientific research confirms that children are fundamentally different from adults because of their immature brain development, weaker impulse control and reasoning abilities. In a recent opinion authored by Justice Kennedy, the Supreme Court found that mandatory procedural sentences such as Michigan’s that “fail to take defendants’ youthfulness into account at all,” are flawed.
Life without parole is an inappropriate punishment for youth, and extremely costly to taxpayers. Michigan’s system imposes this sentence on its young people more than nearly every other state in the nation. Currently we spend nearly $1.3 million dollars to imprison a child for the remainder of their natural life, without taking the time to determine whether they have been rehabilitated and still pose a threat to society.
A meaningful opportunity for release does not guarantee freedom for individuals deemed unsafe to return to the community. Instead, we support changing Michigan laws to establish a careful, individualized review of those given life sentences as youth, to provide a meaningful opportunity for release for those who demonstrate rehabilitation.