Traverse City Record-Eagle

Opinion

December 8, 2013

Jack Lessenberry: What can we do with kids who kill?

So what can we do with kids who kill?

Technically, in Michigan, it has been possible since 1997 to have a person of any age — even an infant — charged, tried and sentenced as an adult. It has also been legal to sentence minors who murder to life without the possibility of parole.

Today, Michigan’s prisons hold 350 such inmates. Some seem to have been vicious killers. Others did nothing except be present when, say, their boyfriends murdered someone.

Regardless, it costs the taxpayers more each year to keep each of them locked up than it would to send them to a private university.

Yet whether or not this is a good policy, the U.S. Supreme Court last year ruled that sentencing kids to life without the possibility of parole is unconstitutional. Nobody disputes this.

Yet what isn’t clear is whether that decision applies to those already so sentenced. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette doesn’t seem to think the nation’s highest court’s ruling applies to those inmates in his state — at least not retroactively.

Schuette, a politically ambitious politician who likes to appear tough on crime, says he doesn’t want to “revictimize the families” of those killed, by holding parole hearings.

That has plainly irked at least one federal judge. U.S. District Judge John Corbett O’Meara last week slammed the state for inaction and ordered the state to put in place a system to review possible parole for such offenders, almost immediately.

His order said that by Dec. 31, Michigan has to put in place “an administrative structure to process and determine the appropriateness of parole for prisoners sentenced to life without parole for crimes committed as juveniles.”

Judge O’Meara ordered the state to take seven other actions, including notifying all such people who have spent at least 10 years in prison that they are eligible for parole, and that their cases “will be considered in a meaningful and realistic manner.”

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