By Kerry Rudd, Journalism Guild Writer
Hundreds of prisoners sentenced to life without the possibility of parole as juveniles now find themselves eligible to apply for resentencing, but need help to gain a hearing.
The Supreme Court held in 2012 that mandatory life without parole for juveniles was unconstitutional in Miller v. Alabama . California adopted Senate Bill 9 in 2013 that allows juvenile LWOPs to apply for re-sentencing.
Before 2012 “there were only five states that banned juvenile sentences of life without the possibility of parole, and that number has since grown to 22 states and D.C.,” reported Oct. 21.
Despite the Miller decision and California’s model for resentencing, some other states have refused to follow suit, the story reported.
Montgomery v. Louisiana hit the docket after Louisiana contested making the Miller decision retroactive. The court ruled that juvenile-sentenced LWOPs would receive retroactive relief. Yet the Montgomery decision did not outline how they should get their cases reviewed, according to the news report
“There was no letter that was received by these individuals in prison, so they had to self-identify, file to get back into court, get lawyers and make their case for re-sentencing,” said Jody Kent Lavy of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth.
Lavy estimates there were about 2,600 juvenile LWOPs prior to the Miller ruling. She says only 1,700 have been resentenced.
The Michigan Department of Corrections contains one of the largest populations of juvenile LWOP cases with 181 individuals yet to be re-sentenced, according to the state records.
Two of these men have been incarcerated for 50 years each. They were 17 years old when their crimes occurred.
One is Clifton Gibson, sentenced to life without parole plus 18 years and 4 months for murder. He was released after 25 years following passage of a state law requiring a review of LWOP juveniles.
Gibson now works full-time at a non-profit agency which provides resources to ex-cons. He’s also on pace to receive his bachelor’s degree.
“I think everyone is capable of changing who they were,” he said.
Advocates of these laws say juveniles have a higher capacity to reform. They argue children aren’t psychologically developed enough to understand the societal consequences of their actions.
“There’s a trend to move away from these sentences altogether,” says Lavy. “I think it just reflects a broad understanding of the fact that kids shouldn’t be condemned to die in prison for mistakes they made at a time that they were still developing.”