The Supreme Court recently ruled that a life sentence without parole for juveniles is unconstitutional, forcing states to alter their current laws. Michigan is currently one of the strictest states in the nation, with a law that forces judges to give children as young as 14 the maximum adult penalty for first-degree murder, with no chance of parole. On Tuesday, the Michigan House Corrections Appropriations Subcommittee will conduct a hearing on this ruling. The Michigan legislature must revise the juvenile life sentence law to match the Supreme Court’s ruling.
The Michigan House Corrections Appropriations Subcommittee plans to review the implications of the U.S. Supreme Court decision banning mandatory life sentences for juveniles tomorrow. In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that mandatory life sentences without the chance for parole was unconstitutionally cruel. This ruling will have a substantial impact on the state of Michigan, which ranks second in the nation in terms of prisoners serving life for crimes committed at age 17 and younger.
Michigan’s current law doesn’t seem to take the mental state of a teenager into account. Teenagers’ brains aren’t as developed as adult brains, making teenagers more impulsive. They lack maturity and don’t have a fully developed sense of responsibility. According to Time Magazine, it’s not until we’re in our mid to late 20s that the prefrontal cortex is fully laid out and engaged. Juveniles clearly don’t have the mental capabilities of adults; therefore, they shouldn’t be treated as such.
Each inmate also costs $35,000 per year. Michigan has the opportunity to save money while also giving past prisoners the chance to lead different and productive lives. According to data released in 2011, 346 Michigan juveniles are currently serving a life sentence without parole. Thus, Michigan will save at least $1.2 million per year under the Supreme Court ruling. Michigan has the rare opportunity to save money and help people start new lives.
This ruling highlights the many flaws of the U.S. prison system. The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world and many prisons are overcrowded as a result. This environment breeds violence and hate, making it difficult for freed prisoners to adjust to life outside of prison.
Juveniles sentenced to life in prison deserve a second chance at life. Michigan’s policy was unjust and the Supreme Court was correct in declaring life in prison without parole for juveniles unconstitutional. Now it’s up to the state of Michigan to alter the law in accordance with this ruling not only to save millions of dollars, but also to give these prisoners a fair chance at a better life. This ruling is only the beginning of the difficult problem of changing the U.S. prison system, but it is a step in the right direction toward comprehensive prison reform.