Ending Juvenile Life without Parole (JLWOP) in Michigan

Michigan has the largest population of individuals serving life without parole since children in the U.S. – and the world.

SB 119-23/HB 4160-64 would eliminate juvenile life without parole sentences. Read more about the legislation here.

To understand how much of a global outlier Michigan is on the issue of JLWOP, access key stats in this factsheet:

Voices of Support to end JLWOP:

Lorenzo Harrell

Lorenzo is a former juvenile lifer who served 26 years in Michigan. Today, he is a braille transcriber. “I love receiving letters of thanks from people who cannot see, teachers, and facilitators who help blind children learn braille. It’s been a way for me to feel like I’m contributing to society and making the world a better place.” In the nearly 4 years he has been home, Lorenzo has become a father, a homeowner, a voter, and a community activist. “This is what the abolishment of juvenile life without parole looks like,” he says.

Describing his experience of freedom after serving 26 years as a life-sentenced child to Michigan Public Radio, Lorenzo says “I went in at 17, I came out at 17, in regards to life experience.”He is working to give his daughter the circumstances he wasn’t afforded growing up.

Helping others leave prison and re-enter society as he did, Lorenzo works full-time at the State Appellate Defenders’ Office and handles many JLWOP cases. Whenever another “juvenile lifer” is released, he “feels all the awe and gratitude he did when he was in their position.”

Read Lorenzo in the news here and watch Lorenzo describe his journey here

Machelle Pearson

A child who had lost her mother at 10 years old, was abused, and then coerced into a criminal act, Machelle was then told she would die in prison.

During a 2023 Advocacy Day in Detroit, Machelle called on lawmakers to better support neglected children and equip children with the resources they need to correct their mistakes rather than lock them away and throw away the key. “We made bad choices, we weren’t born bad. We made bad choices and were thrown into bad situations. But you need to help children correct it.” Machelle was guided to correct her mistakes by the older women she was incarcerated with. They helped her understand her remorse.

After spending 34 and a half years incarcerated, Machelle now mentors teens from abusive and broken homes and is featured in an upcoming book about women surviving trauma. She’s dedicated to supporting women who were sentenced to life without parole to overcome the unique challenges women face. She works to give back to society by letting inner-city kids know they have a “big sister” in her and steering young people away from the path she led. She’s also working hard to steer Michigan away from sentencing children to die in prison.

Watch Machelle reflect on Life Beyond Life by @safeandjustmi.

Valencia Warren-Gibbs

Here, Valencia Warren-Gibbs hugs Bobby Hines in 2017, the year he was released from prison. Bobby was 15 years old when he was sentenced to life without parole for his role in Valencia’s brother’s death. When Bobby was sentenced, she says it didn’t make sense. “My brother didn’t reappear. It didn’t change the outcome. It didn’t change anything. But you’re killing this other person in place of my brother’s life.” Years later, Valencia Warren-Gibbs and her father wrote a victim impact statement in support of Bobby’s resentencing and upon Bobby’s release, Valencia and him became friends. Today, she advocates for the end of juvenile life without parole sentences, particularly in Michigan.

Listen to Valencia’s story on Michigan Public Radio/NPR (Picture Credit: Paul Sancya / The Associated Press)