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Michigan House panel grapples with changing juvenile lifer law

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The Michigan House Criminal Justice Committee opened hearings Tuesday on legislation that could allow people sentenced to life in prison when they were teenagers the possibility of parole.

The bills before the Legislature would allow juvenile lifers to request a parole hearing after serving at least 10 years in prison. There are roughly 300 people in Michigan prisons serving sentences of life without parole after being convicted as juveniles of murder.

“We’re showing grace and we’re showing mercy and we’re also looking at the fact that children’s minds have not developed enough to really be able to comprehend what it is that they’ve done,” said Representative Stephanie Young (D-Detroit), one of the bill sponsors.

Young said that does not mean a parole board has to go easy on a felon.

“If they do their job right, there are areas where we’re saying, this one’s just not right, it’s just not time, then they won’t be let go,” she said.

Representative Graham Filler (R-St. Johns) is the Republican Vice Chair of the House Criminal Justice Committee. He said it appears the legislation as drafted would allow the Oxford High School shooter to apply for parole.

“I find that unconscionable for the victims, for the community that was terrorized,” he said. “I just want to make sure I’m reading this correct that your bill package would let out or allow the parole board to possibly let out Ethan Crumbley in 10 years.”

The sponsors said they are working on amendments to ensure the legislation would not cover juveniles responsible for mass murders.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruledmandatory life-without-parole sentences for juveniles violate constitutional rights. But courts may still impose the sentence after a hearing.

The list of people who wanted to testify exceeded the amount of time available for the hearing. Representative Kara Hope(D-Holt) said there will be more hearings to work on the bills before they are sent to the House floor.

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Rick Pluta is the managing editor for the Michigan Public Radio Network.
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