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SCOTUS sentencing ban brings release for former juvenile lifers

Bobby H. was locked up for 28 years. He had been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for a crime he committed when he was 15 years old. Now 43, he is working to navigate a world he left when he was in eighth grade.

Bobby was condemned for his role in a 1989 murder. Although he wasn't the shooter, prosecutors had painted him as the ringleader and had provoked the two other teens into firing. One of the first things he did after his release was to sit down with his victim's sister and take responsibility for what he did.

In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it's unconstitutional in most cases to sentence juveniles to life in prison without parole. That is essentially because the juvenile brain has not completed its full development, so juveniles are prone to making rash and negative decisions without being able to fully foresee the consequences. Courts should consider the defendant's age and development, along with their degree of criminal involvement and their potential for rehabilitation before sentencing them.

Last year, the Supreme Court extended their logic to people who had already been sentenced as juveniles to life without parole. Now, former juvenile lifers are being resentenced across the country. Some will be resentenced to life without parole, but taking into account the factors the high court specified. Others, like Bobby H., will be released on parole.

Bobby is one of at least 99 former juvenile lifers who have already been resentenced in Michigan. When he became eligible for parole, he was transferred into a special program for people in his position. That program taught him about modern life, technology, personal finance and other information he will need. Once he had a parole date, he was given access to education and job training.

"We're trying to do a little more because this is such a unique situation," said a spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Corrections. "We want to set them up in a way they're not likely to come back."

Bobby has completed his GED, taken a business college prep course and completed a number of self-help and training programs. He also worked with a volunteer from a Michigan court program called Project Reentry to present a comprehensive post-release plan to his resentencing judge.

Almost 1,200 former juvenile lifers have been paroled in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Louisiana alone. So far, officials say, not a single one has violated that parole or committed a new crime. That's great news, although most of the former juvenile lifers who have been released nationwide have been out for a year or less.

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