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  • Doug Tjapkes

Second chances for juvie lifers? Elusive!

I blame it on prosecutors! Here’s what’s going on. The U.S. Supreme Court, in 2012 and 2016, ruled that we may not sentence juveniles to life without parole. AND, those who are now in prison serving that kind of sentence must have those sentences reviewed. And that’s where the rub comes in. The Marshall Project, which recently published an in-depth report on the topic, found that we’re not doing our job here in Michigan. We had about 350 juvenile lifers whose sentences needed review. But get this: It’s 2021, and 200 of those lifers have yet to receive a new sentence! What the ? This, even after the Michigan Legislature responded by ruling that prosecutors should take less than 6 months to get these prisoners resentenced. Did that happen? Heck, no! To no one’s surprise, according the Detroit Free Press, many prosecutors decided to take a lengthier approach. Simply put, they chose to defy the high court’s determination that life without parole for a kid should be exceedingly rare. Four of those waiting to be resentenced were 14 when arrested. 33 others were 15. The reason this is becoming such a hot issue right now is because while prosecutors continue to drag their heels, COVID 19 continues to run rampant through Michigan prisons. The Marshall Project reports that Michigan is third, only to Ohio and Texas, with more than 3,000 confirmed COVID cases. Prisoners in this special category now fear that the virus will get them before they can get resentenced. As if it wasn’t scary enough to walk into an adult prison as a teenager in the first place. For one Michigan inmate, it's already too late. William Garrison had served 44 years for a crime he had committed as a teenager. Just 24 days before he was finally scheduled for release, COVID got him last month. What a tragedy! In a December blog, I referred to what I call a “prosecutor mentality” that leans strongly toward victims, victims’ rights, and punishment. I quoted former prosecutor Paul Delano Butler, now a Georgetown law professor: Like a lot of prosecutors, I possess a zeal that can border on the bloodthirsty .... I put a lot of people in prison, and I had a great time doing it. I’m at a loss to get things moving? To whom should we complain? Where should we apply pressure? The state attorney general? A former prosecutor! The Michigan governor? A former prosecutor! To summarize: We have the U.S. Supreme Court and the Michigan Legislature saying our prosecutors must get on with resentencing 200 juvenile lifers. Meanwhile, a raging pandemic is threatening the very lives of these prisoners. Nothing is happening. And how do our prosecutor’s respond? With the third finger. Disgusting.

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