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Michigan lawmakers introduce legislation to ban life sentences for those 18 and under

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Legislation introduced this week would ban judges from handing out automatic life sentences to anyone age 18 and younger.

Instead, they would face a maximum of 60 years behind bars. They would have the possibility of parole after 10 years.

Jason Smith is the executive director of the Michigan Center for Youth Justice. He said young people have a greater ability to change than adults.

“And so when they get into trouble, you have to factor that majority difference, that developmental phase difference when deciding on what accountability looks like,” Smith said.

The Michigan Supreme Court ruled last year that 18-year-olds’ brains were not developed enough to fairly sentence them to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

“Mandatorily subjecting 18-year-old defendants convicted of first-degree murder to a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole violates the principle of proportionality derived from the Michigan Constitution and thus constitutes unconstitutionally cruel punishment,” the court held.

The U.S. Supreme Court has issued similar rulings dealing with minors. It called for the resentencing of current juvenile lifers.

Smith said the state should focus more on rehabilitation than imprisonment for young people.

“It’s about giving young people the opportunity to make amends and be held accountable for their actions. But have the opportunity to one day be able to continue living in their community and contributing as community members,” he said.

In past years, lawmakers have introduced similar legislation to what was introduced this week. But those bills never made it to the governor, despite having some bipartisan support.

There’s no set timeline for holding a committee hearing on the measures this time around.

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