The JLWOP Capital of the World

From the February 2024 Criminal Defense Newsletter

No country other than the United States permits sentencing children to life without parole, and Michigan leads the nation in people serving this sentence.

In the only country in the world known to condemn children to die in prison, Michigan is home to the largest population of juvenile lifers, making it both a national and global outlier. A united front seeks to reverse our state’s standing as the “Juvenile Life Without Parole (JLWOP) Capital of the World” and end the practice.

A national, bipartisan trend abandoning JLWOP has led 28 other states1 to take legislative action to prevent children from receiving the most extreme adult sentences and ensure individuals condemned as children are given opportunities for rehabilitation and redemption. State bans of JLWOP were precipitated by evolving adolescent brain science and a series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions, including Miller v Alabama (2012 2 and Montgomery v Louisiana (2016),3 ruling mandatory juvenile life without parole unconstitutional and requiring that “mitigating factors of youth” must be considered during every sentencing of a minor.

Not only have legislatures revised their laws, but the sentences of many individuals previously serving JLWOP have been revisited, resulting in the release of over 1,000 people.4 To date, studies estimate that the recidivism rate of former life-sentenced children is just 1%.5 Compared to a national recidivism rate of 40-68%,6 the rate at which released life-sentenced children reoffend is incredibly low.

These individuals are also making a difference in their communities, promoting public safety and community service initiatives. Former life-sentenced children who were resentenced, released, and reside in Michigan include upstanding citizens such as Jamo Thomas,7 the founder of a food ministry feeding over 700 families a week; Lorenzo Harell,8 a braille transcriber and SADO employee; Machelle Pearson,9 a mentor to women and girls experiencing trauma; Ronnie Waters,10 a reentry specialist at Safe & Just Michigan; and Jose Burgos,11 a former reentry specialist at SADO and now the Michigan Campaign Coordinator at the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth.

These individuals are several of the many life-sentenced children who are leading the movement to pass SB 119-23 and HB 4160-64,12 bipartisan legislation introduced in 2023 to eliminate life without parole for youth under 19 years old in the state. They’re joined by a united front, including SADO, Safe & Just Michigan, the ACLU Michigan, and at the national level, the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth (CFSY).

Despite the momentum of the dramatic national trend to end JLWOP, Michigan is one of just four states that have imposed JLWOP in the past five years. Legislative action remains not only necessary but urgent as Michigan has failed to resentence many individuals13 who have been serving an unconstitutional sentence since 2012. The racial disparities of those awaiting resentencing are especially stark: 80% are people of color.14

The recent Michigan Court of Appeals decision People v Poole15 in January 2024 reaffirmed that those who were sentenced to life without parole as 18-year olds are also entitled to a new sentencing hearing. The decision brings another 250-plus people16 the opportunity to come home. It also further demonstrates the necessity of a legislative solution as the current bills would establish a parole review process for all those under 19 years old after serving a certain term of years. The parole process would reduce the need to hold resentencing hearings, easing administrative burdens while still requiring the mitigating factors of youth to be weighed as sentences are reconsidered.

To build on these decisions and to get these bills over the finish line, advocacy efforts continue to ramp up with wide-ranging and bipartisan support, bringing together co-sponsors and other diverse supporters, including business leaders,17 faith leaders,18 and victims19 of youth crime. Several survivors, who after successfully advocating for the resentencing and release of the individuals involved in their cases, have remained some of the state’s most steadfast advocates20 of abolishing the practice in the state altogether. One such advocate, Valencia Warren-Gibbs, was recently interviewed by Michigan Public Radio.21

These diverse voices are coming together for our next Advocacy Day in early March. For details and to keep up to date on ending juvenile life without parole sentencing in Michigan, visit us at, or follow @theCFSY on social media.

Callie King-Guffey
Digital Communications &
Advocacy Manager, CFSY


The CFSY envisions the United States becoming a society that respects all children’s human rights and nurtures their capacity to become leaders, responding to any harm they cause in ways that are rooted in their dignity and unique potential for change. Together, we seek a response to the harm caused by children that is conscientious of childhood traumas, restorative and empowering to all parties, and equitable, especially with regard to race and ethnicity.


1 CFSY Map <> (accessed Feb. 24, 2024).

2 Miller v Alabama, 567 US 460 (2012).

3Montgomery v Louisiana, 577 US 190 (2016).

4 CSFY, 1,000 Releases <> (accessed Feb. 24, 2024).

5 New Study Finds 1% Recidivism Rate Among Released Philly Juvenile Lifers, Montclair State University Press Room (Apr. 30, 2020) <> (accessed Feb. 24, 2024).

6 United States Sentencing Commission, Recidivism Among Federal Violent Offenders (Jan. 2019) <> (accessed Feb. 24, 2024).

7 Schultz Family Foundation, This Former Juvenile Lifer is an Agent of Change <> (accessed Feb. 24, 2024).

8 CFSY, Lorenzo’s Journey <> (accessed Feb. 24, 2024).

9 CFSY Instagram Post (Aug. 28, 2023) <> (accessed Feb. 24, 2024).

10 Ronnie Waters and Jose Burgos, Opinion: Michigan has sentenced more kids to die in prison than any other US state, The Detroit Free Press (Apr. 4, 2023) <> (accessed Feb. 24, 2024).

11 CFSY Instagram Post (Oct. 2, 2023) <> (accessed Feb. 24, 2024).

12 CFSY, Ending Life Without Parole for Children in Michigan (SB 119-23 & HB 4160-64) <> (accessed Feb. 24, 2024).

13 CFSY, Michigan Has the Most Children Serving Life Without Parole in the Country <> (accessed Feb. 24, 2024).

14 Id.

15 People v Poole, __ Mich App __; __ NW2d __ (2024) (Docket No. 352569) (2024).

16 Christina Hall, Court ruling brings opportunity for 20-plus people sentenced to life without parole at age 18, The Detroit Free Press (Jan. 30, 2024) <> (accessed Feb. 24, 2024).

17 CFSY, Business Leaders Support Ending Juvenile Life Without Parole <> (accessed Feb. 24, 2024).

18 CFSY, Statement of Michigan Faith Leaders < Statement-of-Michigan-Faith-Leaders-March-202385.pdf> (accessed Feb. 24, 2024).

19 CFSY, Statement of Survivors and Family Members of Victims of Youth Violence < Statement-of-Survivors-and-Family-Members-of-Victims-of-Youth-Violence-Michigan.pdf> (accessed Feb. 24, 2024).

20 CFSY, Fact Sheet: Second Chances for Children in the Criminal Legal System <> (accessed Feb. 24, 2024).

21 Beenish Ahmed and Lindsey Smith, “We are responsible for them.” Victim’s sister wants life without parole outlawed for juveniles, Michigan Public Radio (Nov. 3, 2023) <> (accessed Feb. 24, 2024).