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Sunday, May 23, 2010

U.S. Supreme Court Says Youth Deserve Second Chance

By Efrén Paredes, Jr.

In a landmark ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an opinion on May 17, 2010, ending life without parole (LWOP) sentences for youths in non-homicide cases.

The Court held that, ‘[A] State must …give defendants like Graham [a juvenile] some meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.’ They further stated, ‘By denying the defendant the right to reenter the community, the State makes an irrevocable judgment about that person’s value and place in society. This judgment is not appropriate in light of a juvenile…offender’s capacity for change and limited moral culpability.’

Several states have pending legislation to end LWOP sentences for youths in homicide cases. Michigan is among those states. Last year Michigan’s House Judiciary Committee Chairman, Mark Meadows, (D-E. Lansing) convened two hearings on bills that would repeal the sentence. The bills have since remained in committee but are expected to receive a final hearing this month. According to a May 22, 2010 Detroit Free Press editorial, Meadows reportedly said the committee will probably approve the bills with amendments.

The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision is great news for the 2,500 prisoners who were sentenced to LWOP when they were youths. Of that number, Michigan holds 350 of them in its prisons. The Court’s opinion is one important step along the road to removing the shameful stain on our nation being the last remaining country in the world that sentences youth to die in prison.

Not only will more states introduce legislation to end LWOP for youth in homicide cases, but there will also be new cases petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court to end the sentences as well. If the Michigan House Judiciary Committee passes the package of bills, the next step will be for a vote on the bills from the full House of Representatives. The bills would then have to be passed by the Senate.

I am asking each of you to please visit an online petition we have asking your state Representative or Senator to vote in support of the package of bills that would end LWOP sentences for youth in Michigan. Please share the petition link with others and ask them to share via email, Facebook, and Twitter.

The bills will not release a single prisoner. What they will do however is make those prisoners sentenced to LWOP when they were juveniles eligible for parole after 15 years. It does not guarantee release, but it begins making release possible by the parole board.

I am encouraged by this news and look forward to seeing a positive outcome. Please keep my family and me in your prayers and join us, as we remain hopeful that the deplorable policy of LWOP sentences for youth will end in the foreseeable future.

Petition to end LWOP sentences for youth:

U.S. Supreme Court decision on May 17, 2010, in Graham v. Florida, No. 08-7412 ruling that LWOP is unconstitutional in non-homicide cases: