Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Bill Could Free Teen Killers

by Alison Costello, Capital News Service
The Macomb Daily
Wednesday, March 11, 2009

LANSING — Amy Black was 16 when she helped her adult boyfriend clean up the crime scene after he stabbed a man to death in 1990 in Muskegon County.

When they were both arrested, Black falsely claimed she was the killer because she thought she would be treated with more leniency than her older boyfriend.

Because there were no appropriate juvenile facilities for her, she was sentenced as an adult to life without chance of parole, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan.

Now 34, she has served more than 16 years and is at the Scott Correctional Facility in Plymouth.

Black is not alone. The United States is the only country, besides Somalia, that sentences teenagers to life in prison with no chance for parole.

And Michigan is second behind Pennsylvania with more than 300, according to the ACLU. Louisiana, California and Florida trail behind.

Patricia Caruso, director of the Department of Corrections, said the number reaches 400.

Jeff Fink, the Kalamazoo County prosecutor, said each state has a different age group to determine which suspects are considered juveniles. Michigan's is 14 to 16.

Kevin Boyd of Oakland County is one of them.

At 16, Boyd and his mother were convicted of murdering his father.

Boyd denies the charge but admits to giving the keys to his father's apartment to his mother and her lover, knowing that they had discussed killing him.

According to the ACLU, Boyd had suffered emotional and physical abuse from both parents who had divorced five years before the murder, attempted suicide in middle school and had been diagnosed with severe depression.

Now 31, he has served more than a decade and is at the Thumb Correctional Facility in Lapeer.

So at a time when the state struggles with a $1.5 billion deficit and a prison system eating up 20 percent of the budget, advocates of changing the law say it's time to rethink sending juveniles to prison for life without parole.

Juvenile offenders like Black and Boyd may get a second chance if Sen. Liz Brater, D-Ann Arbor, has her way.

She re-introduced legislation to ban life without parole for juveniles and allow such inmates already serving such sentences to apply for parole.

"Many of the juveniles receiving this sentence were acting with older codefendants who received lesser sentences," she said. "Many were abandoned or neglected or had untreated mental illness."

The bill is cosponsored by Sens. Mickey Switalski, D-Roseville; Martha Scott, D-Highland Park; Irma Clark-Coleman, D-Detroit; Gilda Jacobs, D-Huntington Woods; Tupac Hunter, D-Detroit; Hansen Clarke, D-Detroit; and Buzz Thomas, D-Detroit.

Patricia Caruso, director of the state Department of Corrections, supports the legislation and said juveniles should never come into the adult prison system.

"When you put a 14-year-old in an adult system, you've given up. Adult prisons are not designed for juveniles," she said.

In Michigan, the juvenile justice system is run by the Department of Human Services — out of her jurisdiction.

"I'm not saying they should not be held accountable," she said. "I don't think that until they are adults they should come into the adult prison system."

But Fink, who said his office sends fewer than one Kalamazoo County juvenile to adult prison per year, said it's important to have the option.

That's because unless offenders are sentenced to the adult prison system right away or when they turn 17, they'll get out once their juvenile sentence is served, he said.

"Even if you're telling people, 'I hate women, I want to kill people,' you'll be released," he said. "Unfortunately, there are a few juveniles who are a danger to the public."

According to Corrections officials, it costs about $30,000 per year to keep an inmate in prison.

For Michigan's 300 to 400 juvenile lifers, that works out to about $9 million to $12 million of the department's annual $2 billion budget.

Brater's bill is pending in the Senate Judiciary Committee.


No comments: