Michigan Teen Life Without Parole Terms: Issue in Shades of Gray


Booth Newspapers profile Michigan's “juvenile lifers,” who were sentenced to life in prison without chance of parole. Michigan spends more than $10 million a year to house more juvenile lifers than all but one other state, Pennsylvania. In all, 358 inmates are serving life sentences for crimes committed from ages 14 to 17. One in five has been in prison 25 years or longer.

As a federal judge weighs whether such sentences are unconstitutional, reporters interviewed nearly two dozen inmates, including some who committed crimes before they could drive. They talked to victims' families, prosecutors, judges, and lawmakers. They found regret and bitterness, anger and forgiveness. They found an issue measured more in shades of gray than black and white. Ask Shirley Schwartz what her brother would think of imprisoning teens for life. “That's a really difficult question,” she says. Her college professor brother was “very liberal,” an advocate for his Grand Rapids urban neighborhood. That was where Jerry Fried died after being beaten to death with a baseball bat in a burglary by a 16- and a 17-year-old.

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