Hundreds of Michigan prisoners sentenced to life in the 1970s and 1980s have been wrongly denied any real consideration of early release, a class-action lawsuit charges, reports the Detroit News. About 800 inmates serving life sentences believed there was a possibility of parole — most of whom were convicted of second-degree murder. Until 1992, a life sentence for any serious crime except first-degree murder meant inmates would typically serve 10 to 25 years and be released if they behaved well in prison. Since the law changed, the parole board has refused to consider release for nearly all offenders serving life offenses.
Some judges say they never intended to sentence criminals to life in prison. They said they gave them a life sentence to ensure that they would have to reform in prison to be released. Now, people convicted of second-degree murder rarely draw a life sentence because the state uses sentencing guidelines. University of Michigan students and professors who have spent a decade researching the issue sued last week on behalf of seven inmates who have been repeatedly denied parole in U.S. District Court in Detroit. Housing those prisoners — some of whom are in their 70s — is costing the state $25 million a year.