Supreme Court decisions
But two Supreme Court decisions seem to go into different directions, one pertaining to life sentences for juveniles and other dealing with sex offenders.
The lifer issue for juveniles is something I've looked at before in Michigan, but the Supreme Court decision will not impact our state's prison system. In Michigan, life without parole is a punishment handed down for murder (first-degree, whether felony or premeditated). A few years ago, I wrote about Oakland County's history of juveniles committing murder. At the time, we had 40 inmates in the state prison system who were serving life without parole for murders they committed before they turned 18.
The Supreme Court rules that states cannot sentence juveniles to life without parole if the crime does not involve murder. In Michigan, defendants can be sentenced to life for some other crimes, such as armed robbery or first-degree criminal sexual conduct, but parole is generally a possibility. Some may label this ruling as weak on crime, but it will likely have no impact in Michigan.
On the same day, however, the Supreme Court did make a tough-on-crime move I believe that will give communities and states greater power in confronting a problem — sexual predators.
This one is a tricky situation because most child sexual assault cases rarely end with a top sentence handed down, such as life or a 50-year minimum term. Often, the cases have to pleaded down to get the conviction because trials are difficult on victims and can be tough to win when it's one person's word against another's. But now, federal law allows states to hold "sexually dangerous" inmates longer, essentially bending the rules to protect society.
The court now stands to help strengthen or expand the law, meaning some people who actually would not re-offend may get caught up in this and find themselves being held longer. But it's necessary to keep the community safe, many will feel. These are the toughest, most sensitive cases.
So, score one for the Supreme Court helping prisoners, and score another for the Supreme Court sticking it to prisoners. From my point of view, society wins with these two decisions.