Supreme Court's ‘juvenile lifers’ decision triggers both hope and heartbreak

Jan 27, 2016

In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that mandatory life in prison without parole for juvenile offenders was unconstitutional. On Monday, the court said that ruling applies to people currently serving sentences for crimes they committed as minors. Current State talks to both a prison reform proponent and a victims’ rights advocate about their reaction to the decision. 

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that prisoners who were sentenced to mandatory life in prison without parole as juveniles before 2012 can now argue for early release.
Credit Wikimedia Commons

For decades, Michigan law automatically sentenced juvenile offenders to life in prison without parole for certain violent crimes. But in 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that those mandatory life sentences for minors amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. The justices did not say if the ruling applied retroactively to those already in prison, though. And officials in several states, including Michigan, decided it did not. 

On Monday, the Supreme Court revisited the issue and said that those inmates are entitled to a chance at re-sentencing or parole. In Michigan, that means that more than 350 inmates serving mandatory life sentences for crimes they committed as teenagers could soon be eligible for one of  those options.  Current State talks to two people who have had very different reactions to the news. Jody Robinson is with the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Murderers and Kristen Staley is the Deputy Director of the advocacy group the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency.