Juvenile Life Without Parole
In June 2012, the United States Supreme Court ruled that it is a violation of the United States Constitution to sentence someone to serve mandatory life in prison without the possibility of parole if the person committed the crime when they were under the age of 18. Since then, many states have been trying to re-write their laws to figure out what to do with juveniles who commit crimes. In Michigan, it is even more complicated because we have 370 people in prison now that are serving sentences of “Mandatory Life Without Parole” and were sentenced before they were 18 years old. There are actually two Bill packages in the Michigan Legislature right now that attempt to deal with this problem. Juveniles deserve a chance for parole because life without parole is a cruel and unusual punishment. There is one major difference in the two Bill packages. The big difference is that the Senate Bill. (SB 318-319) wants to let the 370 people who are already in prison stay there until they die. The House Bill (HB 4806-4809) wants to provide for “retroactivity” – that means that they want a new law that would allow the 370 people in prison to have a court hearing and a chance to be released from prison before they die. Juveniles deserve a second chance by giving them a hearing for possible parole. The Eighth Amendment protects us from cruel and unusual punishment and the United States Supreme Court agrees life without parole is cruel and unusually punishment. Unfortunately, adults who put them in bad situations pressured some of the 370 juvenile lifers. Furthermore, due to unjust sentencing laws, these adults often receive lighter sentences than their juvenile codefendants. Many juvenile lifers grew up in broken homes and this leads to poor decisions. “A hard childhood makes children do things they wouldn’t usually do in a stable and loving home”(Tera) “In at least one study, about 80% of 21 year olds that were abused as children met criteria for at least one psychological disorder”(Silverman) Growing up in poverty is another factor that alters teenager’s discussions. There is more crime in cities with more poverty. Teenagers wake up every morning not knowing if they will live through the day. Kill or be killed. Take the example of Jennifer Pruitt, who was 16 years old when she was sentenced to serve life without parole. Jennifer was born into a dysfunctional family in Pontiac. Her father drank and abused her. Jennifer was living on the streets of Pontiac scared and alone. A 24-year-old woman, who was addicted to drugs and supplied Jennifer with alcohol and marijuana, sheltered her. The 24-year-old woman was low on money and had the idea to rob a house, already knowing the elderly man that lived there kept money. Jennifer and the 24-year-old woman broke into the house. The 24-year-old woman stabbed the elderly male homeowner and killed him. Even though Jennifer did not actually commit the murder, she was sentenced to life without parole. Two decades later, she is still fighting for her freedom. The nephew of the man who was murdered wants Jennifer to have a chance for a hearing and parole. That shows that even family members of the man that was murdered believes Jennifer deserves a chance for parole. This is a perfect example of why going through a hard childhood alters decision making by children. Jennifer is not the only victim that was sentenced to life without parole with similar backgrounds. There are 370 juvenile lifers like Jennifer in Michigan that grew up in a similar environment and were under the age of 18. Do they really deserve to be sentenced to life without parole? Since the teenager’s brain has not fully developed, decisions are made without understanding the consequences. Their thought process works differently than adults. A juvenile can’t fully comprehend the weight of a lengthy prison sentence. The possibility of a harsh sentence will not be deterrent to them due...
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