By Jonathan Oosting, Capitol reporter for MLive Media Group
LANSING, MI — A federal judge has ordered Michigan to develop a process for offering parole hearings to more than 350 inmates serving mandatory life sentences for crimes they committed as minors.
U.S. District Court Judge John Corbett O’Meara said Tuesday that Michigan has failed take action in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that invalidated the state’s sentencing scheme as an unconstitutional form of cruel and unusual punishment.
He ordered officials create a structure for providing parole hearings and give notice to juvenile lifers who have already served 10 years in prison that their eligibility “will be considered in a meaningful and realistic manner.”
O’Meara also ordered the state provide juvenile lifers with the opportunity to participate in educational and training programs available to the general prison population.
If the state does not develop parole procedures by the end of the year and begin the program by the end of January, O’Meara said he may empower a “special master” to give juvenile lifers a shot at parole consideration.
Ann Arbor attorney Deb LaBelle, lead counsel for plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit, applauded the order, noting that it’s been more than a year since the Supreme Court ruling and months since O’Meara first asked the state to describe what juvenile lifer parole hearings might look like.
“Finally, this says they have to do something,” LaBelle said. “They can’t continue to impose a cruel and unusual punishment. I’m really happy that the court said, ‘Do it. Enough of the cruel and unusual.'”