U.N. Committee Blasts U.S. and Michigan on Juvenile Life Without Parole Laws

Affiliate: ACLU of Michigan
July 28, 2006 12:00 am

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ACLU Hopes Sharp Criticism will Change Michigan Laws

DETROIT — The American Civil Liberties Union today announced that the United Nations Human Rights Committee (HRC) has expressed “concern” over state laws that allow juvenile offenders to be incarcerated for life and has asked the United States to ensure that no juvenile is sentenced to life without parole.

“The international community has spoken: children are not disposable,” said Kary L. Moss, Executive Director of the ACLU of Michigan. “We just hope that Michigan will hear this and heed the committee’s advice. We must work to protect and rehabilitate our children as opposed to locking them up and throwing away the key.”

The HRC report was in response to testimony delivered July 17 and 18 by the U.S. government to the HRC about its compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), a major international human rights treaty ratified by the United States in 1992.

The United States filed its written report last October more than seven years overdue, said the committee report. The ACLU of Michigan along with the ACLU national office filed their own shadow report and witnessed the hearing where the U.S. delegation was thoroughly questioned on its juvenile life without parole policies and the use of the phrase “hardened criminals” to describe first time juvenile offenders. In today’s report the committee clearly stated that these laws are “not in compliance with article 24 (1) of the Covenant.”

“The State party,” the report read, “should ensure that no such child offender is sentenced to life imprisonment without parole, and should adopt all appropriate measures to review the situation of persons already serving such sentences.”

Michigan laws allow a child of any age to be tried as an adult, and excludes 17-year-olds from juvenile treatment altogether. Currently there are more than 350 people serving these sentences for crimes committed when they were less than 18-years-old. Those sentenced have absolutely no chance of release unless a governor is willing to grant clemency, which is highly unusual. Currently there are 2,225 youth offenders serving such sentences in U.S. prisons.

In addition to the juvenile life without parole policies in 42 states including Michigan, the committee report blasted the United States for its policies on warrantless spying on Americans by the National Security Agency, the detention and torture of non-citizens, immigration, racial profiling, the definition of “terrorism” and evacuation plans used in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

To read the United Nations Human Rights Committee Report, go to: www.aclumich.org/pdf/uncommitteereport.pdf

The ACLU’s Shadow Report to the HRC, Dimming the Beacon of Freedom: U.S. Violations of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, is available online at www.aclu.org/intlhumanrights/gen/25924pub20060620.html

The ACLU of Michigan’s report on juveniles, called Second Chances, is available at www.aclumich.org

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