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Senate bills would end juvenile life without parole sentences in Michigan

A bill in Michigan's state legislature would end life-without-parole sentences for juveniles.
National Institute of Corrections
A bill in Michigan's state legislature would end life-without-parole sentences for juveniles.

Prisoners sentenced as juveniles to life in prison with no chance for parole would get a chance for release under bills introduced in the state Senate. The bills have bipartisan support.

“It eliminates the potential to give someone life without the potential for parole – as a child,” said Democratic state Sen. Adam Hollier.

Michigan still has one of the nation’s toughest juvenile sentencing laws despite court decisions handed down over the years that say young offenders – even those convicted of murder and other violent crimes – deserve a chance to be released on parole.

“What is the right sentencing? What are the better practices?” said Republican Sen. Jim Stamas. “I think it’s a positive step.”

Deborah LaBelle is an attorney with the A-C-L-U, which has filed multiple legal challenges to Michigan’s juvenile life-in-prison law. She said these bills would provide some clear guidance to judges as they sentence juveniles convicted of serious crimes.

“It says you can’t give this sentence,” she said. “Everybody has a right to go before the parole board and be determined if you pose an unreasonable risk or you can be released.”

The state Department of Corrections said there are 22 people in prison in Michigan sentenced to life without parole as juveniles.

The bills' bipartisan sponsorship suggests a high probability of being adopted. There’s also been bipartisan support in the Legislature for finding alternatives to keeping people in jails and prisons.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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