On June 25, 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court released its opinion regarding Miller v. Alabama, finding that the sentence of life without parole is a form of cruel and unusual punishment when given to juvenile criminal offenders. Today, state Representative Brian Banks (D-Harper Woods) announced that he is extremely disappointed in yesterday’s Michigan Supreme Court decision that the ruling does not apply retroactively. Close to 360 prison inmates previously sentenced as juveniles to life without parole will not have their sentences reduced.
“Studies have shown that adolescent brains don’t function the same way adult brains do. One study proving this was presented by a neuroscientist at Weill Cornell Medical College, Kristina Caudle, who found that adolescents act more impulsively when faced with a threat, and are therefore more likely to act on that threat than a person with a more developed, adult brain,” Banks said. “The U.S. Supreme Court decision does not guarantee that these offenders will automatically win parole. The court has only said that they should have a chance of parole, and I believe they should have that.”
Michigan is one of 26 states that have sentenced juveniles as adults. Michigan is second only to Massachusetts in the number of juveniles serving life sentences without parole. Not all of these offenders were killers. A number of them were sentenced as aiding and abetting the crime. A 2011 American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) report found that 221 of these juveniles are minorities. Of that figure, 211 are African-American.
“Sadly, even though science has proven juveniles do not have the brain capacity to act as adults, and therefore should not be sentenced as adults, Michigan has the second-highest rate in the country of juveniles sentenced to life in prison without parole,” said Banks. “We should follow the U.S. Supreme Court and give these juveniles a chance at parole.”