Photo by Richard Ross

Whether young prisoners serving mandatory life sentences without parole should be given another chance is the at the heart of Michigan Supreme Court cases that could determine the fate of 360 or more individuals sentenced as children to effectively die in prison.

With the outcome of People v. Carp and People v. Eliason potentially having a national impact on the way youth are sentenced, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund has filed a friend-of-the-court brief through local counsel Mitra Jafary-Hariri of the law firm Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn in Michigan, asking for a halt in severe sentencing for youth, especially those that deal with life without parole.

The argument presented before the Michigan Supreme Court is that juvenile justice should gear towards rehabilitation instead of punishment. With more than 2,000 people nationally serving mandatory-life-parole sentences for crimes committed as youths – more than 100 of them in Illinois – many advocates including the NAACP are calling for a change in our juvenile justice system, asking that courts consider that a teen or child may change in five, 10 or 15 years.

The  cases will be decided based on how judges will interpret the 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Miller v. Alabama, which ruled that mandatory juvenile life without parole, even in the case of homicide, amounted to cruel and unusual punishment – and which now requires judges to explore alternative sentencing options and the consideration of certain factors related to youthfulness at sentencing.

The new standards require judges to consider a child’s maturity, role in the crime, home environment and potential for rehabilitation.

This may potentially impact the case of Illinois inmate Adolfo Davis, who was sentenced to life in prison in 1990 when he was 14. Davis, now 37, has been asking judges to retroactively apply the new alternative sentencing standard to his case from 1990, and his case is currently before the Illinois Supreme Court.


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