Less than four years after courts across the land began to release “juvenile lifers” from prison, evidence out of Michigan shows that few of the released prisoners have resumed committing grievous crimes.
Courts released these youth because of a U.S. Supreme Court decision that said that sentencing juveniles to mandatory life without parole was unconstitutional. After one convicted murderer did apparently commit a crime wave after serving 28 years for a 1988 killing he committed as a 15-year-old, a local TV news crew (Target 8) delved into the numbers to see how many other former juvenile lifers in the state had run afoul of the law since their release after resentencing.
The answer? Hardly any. In fact, state officials said Timothy Riddle, who was released in 2017 in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 5-4 Miller v. Alabama decision may be the only one of the 142 prisoners Michigan has released as a result of the ruling even to have been arrested.
“This is a very rare case,” Chris Gautz, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Corrections, wrote in an email to Target 8.
In addition, Gautz added, “Most of the releases are too current to be tracked for ‘recidivism,’ (but) overall, this population appears to do well on supervision before discharging from our jurisdiction.”
While the report is good news for juvenile justice advocates who have long pointed to evidence that much juvenile crime can be chalked up to the impetuosity and immaturity of youth, it should be viewed with caution because there are thousands of people who have been released from prisons in other states since Miller. But if they were to hold true in other jurisdictions and for a longer period, it would mean less than 1% of the formerly incarcerated lifers get in further trouble with the law within three years. Time will tell.
So far, Target 8 reported, 258 people have been resentenced in Michigan, 142 of whom have since been released from prison.
Target 8 began its probe after Riddle, armed with a shotgun, held cops at bay for about seven hours in Barry County. Riddle managed to keep his nose clean until he finished his parole in late 2019, but less than two months later he started getting into trouble with law.
Riddle was wanted for a series of break-ins recently when Hastings police spotted him and chased him through Barry County.
By the time he was arrested after he holed up with a shotgun in a gas station in the little town of Woodland, he’d been charged seven previous times on allegations of shoplifting, larceny and assault.
He fired a shot inside the store, but police said it appeared he was not trying to hit anyone.
The Supreme Court was divided 5-4 in the Miller case, in which one of the two lifers involved had been in and out of the foster care system when he was convicted of murder and was not the triggerman.
The majority found that mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole in juvenile cases violated the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. The dissenters conceded that there’s good reason to treat juveniles differently from adults but asserted that a blanket prohibition against mandatory life without parole failed to distinguish between the culpability of, say, a 15-year-old and a teen who’s just days short of their 18th birthday.