Letter to the Editor: On America’s prison system

(Photo courtesy of miss_millions on Flickr under CC license)

To the editor,

Please read disclaimers below

James makes quilts and teddy bears for homeless shelters. He raises money for local schools, and facilitates conflict resolutions and mediation training. He has also served twenty-five years of a mandatory life sentence for a crime he committed when he was fifteen.

Due to a recent Supreme Court decision, James and other juvenile offenders sentenced to mandatory life in prison will have a chance to have their parole restored and sentences reduced because of the reexamination of mitigating factors.

A mitigating factor is anything that can explain why a youth who committed a certain crime may be less capable than an adult committing the same crime, e.g. a difficult childhood, harsh family circumstances, living in a rough neighborhood, drug/alcohol use, psychological issues, lack of guidance, and evidence that with time and maturation, the offender who committed the crime would no longer be likely to commit a similar crime.

The case of Miller v. Alabama requires that for a youth to be sentenced to a life without parole the court must consider mitigating factors that could affect the mind or behavior of the youth, and could lead to the commission of the crime.

While mandatory sentences were originally designed to equalize sentences among offenders, the unintended consequences have backfired dramatically. Because Michigan law requires mandatory life without parole sentences to those convicted of first degree murder, James never had a meaningful hearing about mitigating factors and his sentence is now unconstitutional.

While Miller v. Alabama is a step in the right direction, James and the 360+ juveniles sentenced to mandatory life in Michigan can technically be resentenced to life, without the possibility of parole. Unfortunately, life with or without the possibility of parole in Michigan means life. This is why, now more than ever, it is necessary for Michigan citizens to contact their local and state representatives and express support for the elimination of mandatory life sentences for juveniles.

Sincerely,
Lacino, Gabrielle, Al, Marcel and Shelby

Note: The authors of this letter are members of the University of Michigan-Dearborn, Inside Out Prison Exchange program, which is partnered with Ryan Correctional Facility, in New Haven. Due to the nature of the program and for the protection of the students, only first names are used.


To the Editor,

As I look at my 11th grade English class, it pains me to know that potentially 12 out of 30 (40%) of my African American male students will go to jail and never get a chance to continue their education.

As dropout rates steadily increase, more minority men and women are imprisoned and therefore denied an opportunity to advance past a GED or equivalent.

Higher education is the path to citizenship for prisoners seeking to become productive individuals upon release. Offering higher education to prisoners, very few of whom have had the opportunity to attend college prior to incarceration, may be especially valuable in a society where postsecondary credentials are increasingly necessary to gain access to living-wage jobs. Without jobs that pay a living wage, ex-offenders often return to criminal activity.

A University of Missouri study has shown that offenders who earned a GED and a full-time job after release had a 33 percent lower recidivism rate. This number would increase if prisoners were given the opportunity to pursue higher education. The benefits of this change would be both on the individual and community level. This initiative will advance and exemplify rehabilitation while also serving as a panacea for the ‘have not’ inconveniences of incarcerated men to gain post-secondary and professional training skills before re-entering society.

Ex-offenders will become educated and responsible citizens. The benefits to the community involve lower rates of crime committed by repeat offenders, lower recidivism rates, which will save taxpayer dollars and a population of people who can contribute to society in a positive way. Career oriented inmates clearly send a positive message to the community that they have sought redemption for the terrible decisions made in the past.

Offering higher education to prisoners will catapult incredible change in our country and our communities.

Sincerely,
James, Gina, Allon, Jameson, Randy, and Tia

Note: The authors of this letter are members of the University of Michigan-Dearborn, Inside Out Prison Exchange program, which is partnered with Ryan Correctional Facility, in New Haven. Due to the nature of the program and for the protection of the students, only first names are used.