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Sunday, April 2, 2023

Evidence-Based Reasons Efrén Paredes Jr. Should Receive Term-of-Year Sentence

by Necalli Ollin

Efrén Paredes Jr. is a 50-year-old Latinx man serving a life without parole (LWOP) sentence for a 1989 homicide and robbery that occurred in Berrien County, Michigan. He was arrested for the crime at age 15 and subsequently convicted by a Berrien County jury. To date he has spent 34 years (i.e., two-thirds of his life) behind bars.

Minors sentenced to LWOP are commonly referred to as "juvenile lifers."

In 2012 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that mandatory LWOP sentences for justice-involved children are unconstitutional and granted sentencing courts discretion to begin resentencing minors to term-of-year sentences or LWOP. A LWOP sentence was no longer the only default sentence minors could receive for a capital offense.

Each state responded differently to the high court's ruling and in Michigan minors became eligible for a term-of-year sentence with a minimum sentence ranging from 25-40 years and a maximum sentence of 60 years.

While LWOP was still an option the U.S. Supreme Court made clear that the extreme sentences could only be imposed on minors who are irreparably corrupt or permanently incorrigible, meaning they must be incapable of change and rehabilitation for the remainder of their lives.

In 2021 Efrén was resentenced as a result of the 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling banning mandatory LWOP sentences for minors. At his resentencing hearing Berrien County Trial Court Judge Charles LaSata resentenced Efrén to LWOP a second time despite compelling anecdotal and documented evidence of his capacity for change and rehabilitation.

On March 16, 2023 the Michigan Court of Appeals vacated the LWOP sentence and remanded Efrén's case for resentencing for a third time. The court cited LaSata's abuse of discretion as one of the reasons for its ruling. August 18, 2022 the appellate court cited judicial abuse of discretion in another case involving a juvenile lifer which LaSata presided over as well (i.e., People v. Mark Abbatoy, MCOA Docket No. 357766). Resentencing was also ordered in that case for a third time.

After two sentencing hearings that have been vacated in Efrén's case during the past 34 years the question now is what common sense, evidence-based reasons exist that he should receive a term-of-year sentence.

In recent years the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) and psychologists have administered a series of actuarial risk assessment instruments to Efrén to determine his risk of violence, recidivism, and supervision levels, if he were to be released.

In addition to participating in actuarial risk assessment instrument testing Efrén has also voluntarily participated in monthly therapy sessions with psychologists and licensed mental health social workers during the past thirteen years. He has interfaced with these professionals 156 times at the time of this writing.

All of Efrén's therapy session reports have consistently indicated that his mental health is good, he is continually working to better himself, and he is creating and adhering to positive, realistic goals he sets to improve his life. Half of all citizens will experience a mental health issue in their lives, but only 13% will seek professional help. Efrén's willingness to seek help reflects his ability to recognize personal struggles and address them in a responsible way.

In her academic article titled, "Punishing Risk," Erin Collins, University of Richmond School of Law assistant professor, writes:

"Actuarial risk assessment tools are surveys that guide the inquirer through a series of questions about the presence or absence of recidivism risk factors in the subject. The inquirer allocates the subject a certain number of points for each factor, each of which is weighted according to the strength of its correlation with recidivism. Based on the total score, the subject is identified as having a 'low,' 'moderate,' or 'high' risk of recidivism."

She adds, "Thus, in the context of the criminal justice system, actuarial risk assessment is the process of using characteristics that statistically correlate with recidivism to predict who will or will not behave criminally in the future." (Erin Collins, "Punishing Risk," 107 Geo. L.J. 57, 64 (2018)).

Actuarial risk assessment instruments have been found to outperform human judgment in virtually all decision-making situations. Research shows that 88% of releasing authorities nationally use risk assessment instruments and judges in several states are using them for sentencing as well. The practice of using actuarial risk assessment tools to guide sentencing decisions has come to be known as "actuarial sentencing" or "evidence-based sentencing."

One of the actuarial risk assessment instruments Efrén has been administered by an MDOC psychologist is the Inventory of Offender Risk, Needs, and Strengths (IORNS). According to the test results Efrén's overall risk index is low. The results indicate that he has good mechanisms for regulating his behavior and managing anger, few treatment and supervision needs, and greater strengths and fewer risks/needs than 94% of prisoners. The test results also indicate he was honest and the results were valid.

The IORNS is the only actuarial risk assessment instrument that assesses all three factors (i.e., static, dynamic, and protective factors) important to recidivism. It provides a more comprehensive risk assessment than is currently available through concomitant assessment. The instrument consists of four indexes, eight scales, 14 subscales, and two validity scales.

Another actuarial risk assessment instrument Efrén has been administered is the Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions (COMPAS). The COMPAS test results indicate his risk of violence, recidivism, and supervision levels are all low.

COMPAS is a comprehensive risks and needs assessment instrument widely used by Corrections departments and sentencing bodies across the nation, which takes into account both static information (such as the prisoner's past criminal offenses) and dynamic data (such as the prisoner's evolving attitudes and mental condition). The software generates a score ranking the offender's statistical likelihood of violence, recidivism, success on parole, and other factors.

 The COMPAS is a fourth generation risk assessment tool. Fourth generation of risk assessments seeks to "[m]aximize the offender's ability to learn from a rehabilitative intervention by providing cognitive behavioral treatment and tailoring the intervention to the learning style, motivation, abilities and strengths of the offender." (James Bonta & D. A. Andrews, "Risk-Need-Responsivity Model for Offender Assessment and Rehabilitation" 1 Public Safety Canada (2007)).

MDOC case managers also formulate a Transition Accountability Plan (TAP) for each incarcerated person to assist her/his reentry into society, and to assist the Parole Board in rendering parole decisions. The TAP instrument analyzes the person's risk factors, sets goals to decrease those risks, and establishes a plan for the person to reach their goals. Efrén's TAP results also reflect that his risk of violence, recidivism, and supervision levels are all low.

In addition to the actuarial risk assessment instruments Efrén has been administered he has also been given the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory-2 (MMPI-2) by an MDOC psychologist in recent years.

The MMPI-2 test results indicate Efrén has tendencies toward moralistic thinking, is sincere, and socially responsible. He prizes agreeableness, trust, and avoidance of conflict. The results also indicate he is receptive to treatment and wants to work on himself.

The MMPI-2 is, by far, the most common of all the psychological assessments employed, and can be a valuable tool in the assessment of those charged with or convicted of murder. (Kenneth S. Pope, Joyce Seelen & James Neal Butcher, "The MMPI-2, and the MMPI-A in Court: A Practical Guide for Expert Witnesses and Attorneys" 9 (2d ed. 1999)).

According to Dr. Richard Vickers, a licensed psychologist in private practice in New York who has administered and interpreted over 3,000 MMPI tests, the MMPI-2 is "highly reliable" and "well represented in the peer-reviewed literature, with approximately 250 MMPI-2 studies published per year" and its "Retest coefficients for 8 of the 10 basic scales surpass .80, and validity coefficients can approach 100%."

Juvenile lifers who have been released in Michigan also have an unprecedented less than one percent recidivism rate. This number ranks the lowest rate of all demographics of people released from prison. The national average recidivism rate for all people released from prison is 68%.

"In terms of risk to public safety, juvenile lifers can be considered low-impact releases." (Tarika Daftary-Kapur, Ph.D. & Tina M. Zottoli, Ph.D., "Re-sentencing of Juvenile Lifers: The Philadelphia Experience," 10, Montclair State University (2020)).

Efrén has been married ten years. He is also a proud and caring parent of two adult daughters and a school age daughter. During that time he has maintained a positive relationship with them and has actively assisted his wife foster a path of success for his youngest daughter's middle school educational experience.

The "association of marriage with lower crime among men has been widely reported in both quantitative and qualitative studies." (Nat'l Research Council of the Nat'l Acads., "Parole, Desistance from Crime, and Community Integration" 21 (2007)).

Research also shows that marriage and parenthood play a significant role in rehabilitation. "Marriage has the potential to radically change routine activities[.] ... [It] entails obligations that tend to reduce leisure activities outside of the family. ... Involvement in work and marriage reorders short-term situational inducements to crime and, over time, redirects long-term commitments to conformity." (John H. Laub & Robert J. Sampson, "Understanding Desistance from Crime," 28 Crime & Just. 1, 50-51 (2001)).

In her book titled, "When Prisoners Come Home: Parole and Prisoner Reentry," author Joan Petersilia writes:

"Reviews of prisoners' family relationships yield two consistent findings: male prisoners who maintain strong family ties during imprisonment have higher rates of post-release success, and men who assume husband and parenting roles upon release have higher rates of success than those who do not."

Throughout the course of his incarceration Efrén has consistently yielded decades of anecdotal and documented evidence of change and rehabilitation. He has perpetually educated himself and completed every vocational, educational, and counseling programs available to him.

Efrén has also helped transform the lives of others inside and outside of prison. He has used the knowledge and skills he has acquired to assist both incarcerated peers and citizens in society use critical thinking, emotional intelligence, and conflict resolution to empower themselves to become better human beings and sound consequential thinkers.

In 2021 the Michigan Court of Appeals stated, "In the usual sense, 'rehabilitation' involves the successful completion of vocational, educational, OR counseling programs designed to enable a prisoner to lead a useful life, free from crime, when released." (emphasis added) (People v. Bennett, 335 Mich. App. 409, 426 (2021)). The evidence of Efrén's body of accomplishments support that he has achieved rehabilitation according to this standard.

In the same ruling the Michigan Court of Appeals stated that trial courts must "consider whether the defendant 'was and would remain WHOLLY incapable of rehabilitation for THE REMAINDER OF HIS LIFE [i.e., permanently incorrigible or irreparably corrupt.]'" (quoting People v. Garay, 320 Mich. App. 29, 49 (2017)) (Bennett, 335 Mich. at 418).

It added, "'Irreparable corruption,' is the ONLY ground [the U.S. Supreme Court] specifically identified for imposing a life-without-parole sentence [for a juvenile]. See [Miller v. Alabama], 567 U.S. at 479." (emphasis added) (Bennett, 335 Mich. App. at 420). ... "'[C]ourts are not allowed to sentence juveniles who are not irreparably corrupt to life without parole.'" (People v. Skinner, 502 Mich 89, 125 (2018)) (Bennett, 335 Mich. App. at 434).

A year later in July 2022 the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that sentencing courts must now begin their analysis of juvenile lifer cases from the premise that the person before them, like most children, has engaged in criminality because of transient immaturity, not irreparable corruption.

The state's high court added that when a prosecutor seeks to impose a LWOP sentence on a person for a crime committed when s/he was a minor, the prosecutor bears the burden to rebut a presumption that LWOP is a disproportionate sentence. The standard for the rebuttal is clear and convincing evidence.

The court concluded by stating, "If the prosecutor cannot shoulder [the] burden [of proof that LWOP is a disproportionate sentence for a minor] BY CLEAR AND CONVINCING EVIDENCE, the trial court MUST sentence the defendant to a term of years." (emphasis added) (People v. Taylor, Mich. Sup. Ct. No. 154994, Decided July 28, 2022, slip op., at 20-21).

Efrén is not a candidate to receive a LWOP sentence according to well-established court precedent. His robust body of accomplishments spanning decades, lived experience as a husband and father, outpouring of support he has from a broad network of family members and friends, and actuarial risk assessment results that reflect his low risk of violence and recidivism, comprise substantial and compelling evidence-based reasons to conclude Efrén can be safely reintegrated back into society. He would not be a menace to society nor would he pose a danger or risk to public safety.

For all the aforementioned reasons Efrén should be resentenced to a term of years which will allow him to be afforded meaningful, realistic, and attainable release consideration by the Michigan Parole Board at some point in the future.

[To view a list of Efrén's accomplishments during his incarceration visit You can also learn more about Efrén by visiting]