DETROIT (AP) — The state of Michigan has settled a decadelong lawsuit over so-called juvenile lifers by agreeing to accelerate rehabilitation programs that could enhance their release from prison, attorneys said Wednesday.
The deal also requires the attorney general to crack down on “delay tactics” by county prosecutors who have stood in the way of new sentencing hearings, said attorney Deborah LaBelle, who sued on behalf of hundreds of prisoners.
The lawsuit involved prisoners who were convicted of murder and automatically sentenced to life without parole for killings when they were under 18. Those no-parole punishments are no longer mandatory following U.S. Supreme Court decisions, and judges have the discretion to order shorter sentences.
Nearly 170 prisoners in Michigan, known as juvenile lifers, are still waiting for new hearings out of the original group of 350.
Local prosecutors will be given deadlines to schedule the hearings and keep the attorney general’s office informed, according to the settlement.
“We cannot continue to deny what every parent and the world knows: Children should not be punished the same as adults for their actions, and we cannot continue to throw away Michigan’s children by imposing this sentence which denies all hope,” LaBelle said.
The deal also requires the Corrections Department to recommend rehabilitation programs for juvenile lifers seeking parole. Those programs are a key part of parole decisions by the Michigan Parole Board.
The state will pay $800,000 in fees and expenses to lawyers who represented the prisoners. The lawsuit was led by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan.