Free Efren Orange Banner

Free Efren Orange Banner

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Denying Second Chances is Divorced from Humanity

by Efren Paredes, Jr.

News about upcoming resentencing hearings for youthful offenders who were sentenced to life without parole ("juvenile lifers") has been a frequent occurrence in the media.

Unfortunately the focus remains on inordinate punishment, while rehabilitation continues to be an outlier in the conversation.

Most juvenile lifers have spent decades behind bars. They have been imprisoned most of their teens, all their 20s and most of their 30s. Many prisoners have been incarcerated well into their 40s and 50s.

Research shows that the older prisoners get the lower their risk of recidivating becomes when released, particularly after age 30. The rate of recidivism decreases even more for prisoners with children and/or who are married.

In the case of prisoners serving life sentences, their risk of returning to prison is the lowest of all incarcerated demographics. The recidivism rate for prisoners serving life sentences is less than 2%. The rest of the prison population that is released has an average of 25 - 30% recidivism.

Without question public safety is greater when releasing prisoners who have served long sentences. They have spent many years isolated from the world and reflecting about the crimes they have committed.

They have also come to profoundly understand what it means to lose their freedom for many years, and endured the painful experience of being separated from people they shared their lives with.

During nearly three decades of incarceration I have never met a prisoner serving a life sentence (who was guilty of the crime he committed) that did not deeply regret the actions that lead to his imprisonment. Each has expressed contrition for their mistakes.

It is common to hear prisoners serving life sentences say if they could go back in time to the day they committed their crime they would have made much different choices.

Prisoners express these things in the presence of other prisoners who have absolutely nothing to offer them such as paroles or commutations. They have nothing to gain by their honesty and openness.

This says a lot because many prisoners strive to create and maintain the facade of a rigid exterior and persona so that other prisoners will respect them or be more fearful of them.

Many of these prisoners participate in self-help programming and attend religious services even though their sentences have condemned them to die in prison.

All this demonstrates change. Their actions are reflections of hope, growth, and maturity; all elements essential to reforming their lives.

A society that continues evolving its standards of decency must begin embracing principles that promote life. We cannot become captives to policies designed to eclipse the souls of young offenders and condemn them to a lifetime of perpetual suffering.

Intrinsically every human being wants to do good. Circumstances in young people's lives they can not extricate themselves from derail that at times, but no single experience defines them, whether good or bad.

Statistics reflect that 95% of the prisoner population will return to society one day. This means they will all be offered a second chance to become productive citizens. Youthful offenders should not be excluded from this opportunity.

Denying people second chances is to deny them a life of meaning.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Proposal to Grant Michigan Juvenile Lifers Parole Consideration

by Efren Paredes, Jr.

Advocates for prisoners who were sentenced to life without parole ("LWOP") for crimes they were convicted of committing when they were juveniles ("juvenile lifers"), recently created a new online petition proposing changes to their sentences.

In 2012 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that mandatory LWOP sentences for juveniles is unconstitutional in the case of Miller v. Alabama. The court acknowledged that children are different and have an enormous capacity for change.

Despite the court's ruling a patchwork of litigation ensued across the nation as a consequence of defiant state attorneys general who refused to acknowledge that the court's ruling had retroactive application.

According to many state attorneys general, the Miller case did not apply to cases that had already exhausted their appellate remedies; the vast majority of the 2,500 juvenile lifers nationwide.

It would take four years for the U.S. Supreme Court to finally settle the retroactivity issue in the case of Montgomery v. Louisiana in January 2016.

In its ruling the court held that unless a prosecutor can prove a defendant is "irreparably corrupt," and has no chance of ever being rehabilitated, s/he can not receive a LWOP sentence. Instead, s/he must be sentenced to a term of years.

The petition calls on the legislature to modify the existing Michigan statute governing first-degree murder cases for juvenile offenders to allow them to begin receiving meaningful parole consideration.

It asks lawmakers to revise the range of minimum sentencing guidelines, which currently allow a person to receive a 25- to 40-year minimum sentence, to be a flat 25-year minimum sentence. The maximum sentence of 60 years would remain the same.

The change would prevent the state from conducting 363 costly resentencing hearings at taxpayer expense for each prisoner affected. It would avert placing enormous burdens on county prosecutors, preserve limited state financial resources and prevent victim family members from having to experience additional potentially protracted, painful court hearings.

The Flint water crisis desperately needs taxpayer dollars and vast resources to remedy. There are many neglected infrastructure projects that need to be completed, and funding is needed to prevent further school closings.

Taxpayers are asking legislators to prioritize the state's resources to fund these three needs rather than allocating resources to be spent on avoidable resentencing hearings.

Revising the sentencing guidelines would give jurisdiction to the Parole Board over each juvenile lifer case. The Parole Board would review each case and only release juvenile lifers who would not pose a danger to society if released.

When people sign the petition a template letter is e-mailed to their state representative, state senator, and the Governor expressing support for the petition content. State legislators are selected by based on the zip code provided by the person signing the petition.

People can visit to view and sign the petition. You are encouraged to also share a link to the petition on Facebook, Twitter, and in e-mails and text messages.