Racial Discrepancies in Michigan’s Juvenile Life Without Parole Population, Report Finds

A number of racial discrepancies were found among Michigan’s juvenile life without parole (JLWOP) population in a new report released by the American Civil Liberties Union in conjunction with Second Chance 4 Youth. The state’s JLWOP population is the second highest in the nation trailing Pennsylvania.

juvenile life without paroleThe report, Basic Decency: An Examination of Natural Life Sentences for Michigan Youth, analyzes Michigan’s juvenile justice system and was overseen by lawyer Deborah LaBelle, director of the Juvenile Life Without Parole Initiative.

On average, juveniles charged with murder were 22 percent less likely to receive plea offers if the victim were white rather than African-American, the report states. Additionally, the researchers say the makeup of youths serving life sentences within Michigan are heavily skewed towards racial minorities, who constitute almost three- quarters of the state’s JLWOP population despite representing only 29 percent of the state’s total juvenile population.

Nationally, the report indicates African-American youths represent 28 percent of juvenile arrests, despite representating nearly 35 percent of the total juvenile defendant population that is waived to adult courts.

Furthermore, the report states that attorneys representing juveniles sentenced to life without parole have received disciplinary actions from the Michigan state bar at elevated rates. About 38 percent of lawyers representing youths with life without parole sentences having been sanctioned or disciplined for what the report calls “egregious violations of ethical conduct.” The rate for Michigan attorneys generally, the researchers note, rests at about five percent.

The state’s juveniles also rejected plea offers at higher rates than that of the adult population – resulting, frequently, in scenarios where Michigan adults received lighter sentences than juveniles convicted of equivalent crimes. According to the report, when youths were represented by a lawyer not been disciplined by the state bar, Michigan juveniles were about 43 percent more likely to accept a plea bargain than those represented by an attorney that had been reprimanded or sanctioned.

The report concludes by urging legislators to repeal JLWOP sentences for youths under 18, in addition to implementing parole reviews for youth serving life sentences who are eligible for parole after 10 years of incarceration.

Currently, more than 370 juveniles have been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole in Michigan.

Photo via the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy


Youth Today is the only independent, internationally distributed digital media publication that is read by thousands of professionals in the youth service field.

Youth Today adheres to high-quality journalistic standards, providing readers with professional news coverage dedicated to examining a wide spectrum of complex issues in the youth services industry from legislation to community-based youth work.


Our organization retains full authority over editorial content to protect the best journalistic and business interests of our organization. We maintain a firewall between news coverage decisions and sources of all revenue.


We are committed to transparency in every aspect of funding our organization. Donors may be quoted, mentioned or featured in our stories. Our news judgments are made independently – not based on or influenced by donors. Accepting financial support does not mean we endorse donors or their products, services or opinions…(read more)

Recent Comments




Kennesaw State University Mountain Logo & Ceneter for Sustainable Journalism Logo
LOGO Institute for Nonprofit News 3 turquoise boxes stacked in "J" shape

Copyright © 2018 Youth Today and MVP Themes --- Published by Center for Sustainable Journalism,
Kennesaw State University, 1200 Chastain Blvd. Suite 310, Kennesaw GA 30144

To Top