MI Life without Parole Sentences for Minors Declared HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATION

MI Life without Parole Sentences for Minors Declared HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATION

Juvenile life without parole sentences in Michigan put the US in violation of an Inter-American Treaty which the US signed. Four bills now in the Michigan State Senate end juvenile life sentences.

Urge your State Senator to vote to pass Senate Bills 848, SB849, SB850 and SB851.


by Efrén Paredes, Jr.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has issued a historic report on the merits of a petition filed on behalf of 32 people sentenced to life without parole (LWOP) in Michigan when they were children (“juvenile lifers”).

The petition was filed in 2006 by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and the Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute. The report was issued November 19, 2021 but only recently made available to petitioners by the IACHR.

The IACHR is comprised of seven independent experts named by the Organization of American States (OAS) who are charged with oversight of human rights in the Americas. The U.S. is a member party to the OAS.

In a scathing analysis of the treatment juvenile lifers have received in Michigan the IACHR stated in its recent report:

“The sentencing of juveniles to life without parole has been found incompatible with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a human rights treaty ratified by the United States. In its review of the United States’ compliance under this treaty, the [United Nations] Human Rights Committee stated that the U.S. ‘should prohibit and abolish the sentence of life imprisonment without parole for juveniles[.]'”

The United Nations Human Rights Committee report was issued April 23, 2014. (Human Rights Committee, “Concluding Observations of the Human Rights Committee: United States of America,” CCPR/C/USA/CO/4, 23 April 2014).

In its report conclusion the IACHR stated:

“Based on the determinations of fact and law, the Inter-American Commission concludes that the [U.S.] is thereby liable for the failure of the state of Michigan to provide appropriate protective measures for juveniles, inclusive of specialized judicial proceedings and detention facilities with an objective of rehabilitation and reintegration of youth. Specifically, the State is responsible for the violation of Articles I (life, liberty, and security), VII (special protection of children), XI (preservation of health and well-being), XII (education), XVIII (fair trial), XXV (protection from arbitrary arrest) and XXVI (due process) of the American Declaration [of the Rights and Duties of Man] to the detriment of the alleged victims.”

The American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man was ratified in 1948 and enumerates a catalogue of human rights and freedoms (i.e., civil, political, economic, social and cultural).

In 1989 the Inter-American Court of Human Rights found that the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man is “a source of international obligation related to the Charter of the Organization [of American States].” As such, the American Declaration is a source of legal obligation upon all members of the OAS, including the U.S.

The report, though originally filed on behalf of 32 individuals, applies to all children in the U.S. The IACHR made this clear in its recommendations when stating that the U.S. should “adopt measures to abolish the sentence of life imprisonment for juveniles in Michigan and other states.”

While the IACHR lacks the authority to enforce its recommendation on the U.S. its report it can influence the way Michigan and other states treat children convicted of crimes by highlighting the panoply of human rights violations they’ve been subjected to. It can also be presented in court appeals and used to help inform lawmakers why LWOP sentences for minors is an inhumane and misguided policy.

The report should prompt Congress to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the world’s most widely supported treaty. One hundred ninety-four nations have ratified the treaty as of 2015 and the U.S. remains the lone country on the planet that has yet to do so.

If ratified, the CRC would abolish LWOP sentences for children in all 50 states. Twenty-five states and the District of Columbia already prohibit the extreme sentence for kids and another nine states have no one serving a LWOP sentence for a crime they were convicted of committing as a minor.

That leaves only sixteen states remaining who are in the minority, including Michigan.

It’s time Michigan lawmakers join the majority 68% of states who are not sentencing children to die in prison by enacting Senate Bills 848, 849, 850, and 851 which were introduced with bipartisan support on January 31, 2022.

The nation is trending away from imposing LWOP sentences on children and they are embracing the restoration of rehabilitation and eventual reintegration into society being the focus of incarceration.

The optics of being an outlier in this instance isn’t something for Michigan to be proud of. It’s a stain on our reputation and mark of a recalcitrant throw-away mentality. It is also at odds with the majority of the country that has embraced the concepts of redemption and second chances.

Michigan lawmakers don’t need another independent international commission or court ruling to tell them they are standing on the wrong side of history for them to do the right thing. They can do it because it’s simply the humane thing to do.

Contact Michigan lawmakers and ask them to pass Senate Bills 848, 849, 850, and 851 which would abolish LWOP sentences for children in Michigan and only permit them to receive term-of-year sentences. Use the link below to view a press release from the bills’ lead sponsor.

You can also download and view the entire IACHR report titled “Juvenile Offenders Sentenced to Life Imprisonment Without Parole” below:

Efrén Paredes, Jr. is an incarcerated journalist and social justice advocate who works at the intersection of decarceration, racial justice, and conflict resolution.

You can read more of his writings or listen to his TV news/radio/podcast interviews HERE.

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