Editorial: Repeal Michigan's cruel juvenile lifer law

Editorial, Detroit Free Press

Michigan remains one of the few spots on the planet where kids too young to legally drive or smoke cigarettes can receive a mandatory life sentence in prison — the maximum adult penalty.

That fact should shame every citizen of this great state, just as it has drawn fire from human rights groups nationwide. If Gov. Rick Snyder wants to reinvent Michigan from top to bottom, he can start by supporting the repeal of Michigan’s barbaric juvenile lifer law.

Michigan state prisons hold 350 juvenile lifers — inmates who were given mandatory life sentences for crimes committed when they were as young as 14. Many of them have already served decades in adult prisons, where they each cost taxpayers $35,000 a year.

Repealing the law, enacted in the 1980s, would not, in itself, release a single one of them; repeal would simply give each inmate sentenced under the law an opportunity to seek parole after serving a minimum sentence — probably 10 or 15 years, depending on how legislators wrote the new law. But the Michigan State Parole Board would still be able to deny any juvenile parole if parole board members believed the prisoner remained a risk to society.

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