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Senate bills would end juvenile life without parole sentences in Michigan

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Todd Ehlers
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Prisoners sentenced as juveniles to life 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 Senator 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 Senator Jim Stamas. “I think it’s a positive step.”

Deborah LaBelle is an attorney with the ACLU, which has filed multiple legal challenges to Michigan’s juvenile life-in-prison law. She says 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 told Michigan Public Radio. “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 says there are 22 people in prison in Michigan sentenced to life without parole as juveniles.

The fact that the bills have 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. His journalism background includes stints with UPI, The Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal, The (Pontiac, MI) Oakland Press, and WJR. He is also a lifelong public radio listener.
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