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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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 https://EfrensWords.home.blog/Efrens-Accomplishments/. You can also learn more about Efrén by visiting http://fb.com/Free.Efren.]