You are on page 1of 7

"In The Spirit of Youth and the City Streets, Jane Addams, the Nobel Prize winning social

worker and crusader for the juvenile court, emphasized that youth above all is about
possibility and that 'we may either smother the divine fire of youth or we may feed it.' We
reject life without the possibility of parole sentences because they smother the divine fire
of youth. They are an expression of despair that has no place in any system that aims to
take seriously youth as a mitigating factor." —David S. Tanenhaus, Steven A. Drizin,
"Owing to the Extreme Youth of the Accused": The Changing Legal Response to Juvenile

December 25, 2007

The Honorable Paul Condino

State Representative
State Capitol
P.O. Box 30014
Lansing, MI 48909-7514

Dear Representative Condino and Other Distinguished Members of the Michigan Legislature:

I write to express that I echo the call of the proponents to end the imposition of life without parole
sentences on juveniles in the State of Michigan. Their opposition to this human rights violation is
commensurate with 192 other nations of conscience in the civilized world. I support their appeal to
this honorable legislative body for the reasons they have raised and I include additional reasons

For nearly 19 years I have been imprisoned for a crime I did not commit. I was convicted in 1989 of
one count of murder and one count of armed robbery. I was subsequently sentenced to two terms of
life without parole for the murder charge and one parolable life sentence for the armed robbery. My
guidelines for the armed robbery charge was 3 to 8 years.

I was 15-years-old at the time of my arrest. Previous to this arrest I had no criminal history of any
kind in adult or juvenile court and was a high school honor student. I lived in St. Joseph, Michigan in
a good community, enjoyed the strong support of family, and was involved in various extracurricular

I have maintained my innocence for the crime since the day of my arrest. My innocence, however, is
not the subject of this letter. I did not compose this letter to re-try my case in the court of public
opinion, rather I want to bring to your attention a broader issue that is adversely affecting our youth
and threatening their future.

I was the first juvenile in Berrien County to be tried and sentenced under the October 1988 law which
authorized prosecutors to automatically transfer juveniles to adult court and try them as adults. My
refusal to admit guilt to a crime I did not commit resulted in me receiving the aforementioned
sentences amid a barrage of print, radio and television media publicity. The sentences I received
have been cited in various reports as one of the most egregious cases of injustice against a juvenile.
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) is comprised of 35,000 premier psychiatrists from
across the nation. In a position paper released in 2005 titled "Adjudication of Youths as Adults in the
Criminal Justice System," the APA called for an end to the deplorable practice of transferring
juveniles to adult court for a number of reasons, one which precluded the transfer of first-time
juvenile offenders to adult court.

The APA is a highly respected body of medical specialists who establish and maintain guiding
principles for the nation's field of psychiatry. (Please see for more
information about the APA). Their recommendations have strongly influenced the criminal justice
system and legislative bodies across the country.

In recent years a large corpus of research has emerged reflecting that the teenage brain is not fully
developed. The brain is actually undergoing a pruning process during the adolescent years in the
executive area of the brain that controls decision-making and planning, among other critical things.
Science has conclusively proven that teenage brains are incomplete and do not fully develop until
well into a person's 20s. Thus, adolescent brains are incomplete, rendering adolescents incomplete
people with limited cognitive abilities by scientific and medical standards.

If an adult functions with the mentality of a person 17-years-old or younger, that person is deemed
mentally unfit to stand trial in most cases. But when a person 17-years-old or younger commits a
crime, courts across the state are determining that person has been transformed into an adult. There
is something gravely wrong with this faulty logic.

The APA are medical professionals who have reviewed the research which has conclusively
established teenage brains are not fully formed, they are undergoing significant changes during that
time, and no doctor can predict future dangerousness, or amenability to treatment, of a person with a
brain not fully formed.

Adolescents are not the same people in days, weeks, months, and especially years after their crimes
were committed. There is no proven nexus between extinguishing the light of hope in adolescents
committed to prison and the prevention of crime. Adolescents do not even have the capacity to
comprehend crime deterrence and formulate long-term planning. Their sense of time alone is not
within the realm of normal functioning adults.

Courts and legislatures have respected the opinions of the APA when creating and imposing laws.
Psychiatrists evaluated each juvenile sentenced to life without parole prior to sentencing. I urge this
honorable legislative body to adopt the current position of the APA about the transfer of juveniles to
adults court based on their years of research, and join the rest of the world as they continue to
embrace evolving standards of decency in civilized societies.

Implicit in the APA's position opposing the transfer of first-time offenders to adult court is desisting
the practice of imposing life sentences without the possibility of parole as well; a veritable death
sentence in this state. Without the transfer of juveniles to adult courts in this state, there can be no
imposition of life without parole sentences on juveniles.

Michigan was the first state to abolish the imposition of the death penalty in the western hemisphere.
The United States now stands alone as the only nation in the western hemisphere to impose life
sentences without parole on juveniles. Let us come together to abandon another one of the world's
relics of the ancient past by desisting the draconian practice of imposing life without parole sentences
on juveniles as well.

We are a nation "under God" and in God, we do indeed trust. These words are prominently displayed
in our capitol building, legislative chambers, and courtrooms. The protection of our children and
adoption of sound public policy which focuses on the rehabilitation of children is commensurate with
our belief in God. Abandoning the concepts of redemption and rehabilitation contravene our belief in
God and having God as the cornerstone of our decision-making.

We can utilize this discussion as an opportunity to restore God in His rightful place in the decision
making process that affects the trajectory young people’s lives may take. To not infuse this dialogue
with the spirit of righteousness is tantamount to removing God from the equation all together.

It is my fervent prayer that this honorable legislature abolish the imposition of life without parole on
juveniles and restore dignity to the way juveniles are treated by the criminal justice system. In so
doing we can rescue a generation of youth and help realign the moral compass that has allowed us to
demonize them and treat them as pariahs.


Efren Paredes, Jr.

G. Robert Cotton Facility
3510 N. Elm Road
Jackson, MI 49201
The American Psychiatric Association is a medical specialty society recognized world-wide. Its over
35,000 U.S. and international member physicians work together to ensure humane care and effective
treatment for all persons with mental disorder, including mental retardation and substance-related
disorders. It is the voice and conscience of modern psychiatry. Its vision is a society that has
available, accessible quality psychiatric diagnosis and treatment.


The APA is an organization composed primarily of medical specialists who are qualified, or in the
process of becoming qualified, as psychiatrists. The basic eligibility requirement is completion of a
residency program in psychiatry accredited by the Residency Review Committee for Psychiatry of
the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME), the Royal College of
Physicians and Surgeons of Canada (RCPS(C)), or the American Osteopathic Association (AOA).
Applicants for membership must also hold a valid medical license (with the exception of medical
students and residents) and provide one reference who is an APA member.


The American Psychiatric Association is an organization of psychiatrists working together to ensure

humane care and effective treatment for all persons with mental disorders, including mental
retardation and substance-related disorders. It is the voice and conscience of modern psychiatry. Its
vision is a society that has available, accessible quality psychiatric diagnosis and treatment.


The mission of the American Psychiatric Association is to:

* promote the highest quality care for individuals with mental disorders (including mental
retardation and substance-related disorders) and their families;
* promote psychiatric education and research;
* advance and represent the profession of psychiatry; and
* serve the professional needs of its membership.


* best standards of clinical practice

* highest ethical standards of professional conduct
* prevention, access, care and sensitivity for patients and compassion for their families
* patient-focused treatment decisions
* scientifically established principles of treatment
* advocacy for patients
* leadership
* lifelong professional learning
* collegial support
* respect for diverse views and pluralism within the field and the association
* respect for other health professionals

In addition, prosecutors have recently been given more discretionary
Adjudication of Youths as Adults in the authority by state legislatures than judges in certain situations and may
Criminal Justice System transfer a case via the mechanism of direct file. Many states do not identify
POSITION STATEMENT the lowest age at which these waiver mechanisms can be applied. Some
states identify ages as young as six and ten for which a child could legally
Approved by the Board of Trustees, December 2005 be transferred to the criminal judicial system (Griffin, Torbet, and
Approved by the Assembly, November 2005 Szymanski, 1998).
Recent national data from the U.S. Department of Justice (OJJDP,
"Policy documents are approved by the APA Assembly and Board 2003) indicates that approximately 7500 youth are transferred to the
criminal court each year by judicial discretion, that approximately 27,000
of Trustees…These are … position statements that define APA
youth are sent to the criminal justice system by direct file, and that 218,000
official policy on specific subjects…" -- APA Operations Manual. youth completely bypass the juvenile justice system via legislation that
lowers the age at which an alleged juvenile offender will be dealt with as
The ostensible goals of transfer, or waiver, to the criminal justice an adult below age eighteen. More than half of the transfer cases in one
system include: (1) deterrence of youth from committing crimes, (2) year were for nonviolent drug or property offenses, including 43 percent for
reduction in recidivism among youth who are transferred, and (3) offenses against persons, 37 percent for property offenses, 14 percent for
improvement of public safety. However, instead of accomplishing their drug offenses, and 6 percent for public order offenses. Eight percent of
intended goals, waivers have seriously disrupted the lives of youth, and youth admitted to state prison before age 18 were released before
their families, especially those from minority communities. The federal reaching their eighteenth birthday and 75 percent were released before
government, in concert with states, should review and develop a strategy becoming 22 years old. Ninety-three percent have served their minimum
to reform current transfer/waiver practices. The general goals of such sentence before age 28. Unfortunately, these youth did not receive the
reform must be: to reduce the number of youth inappropriately transferred rehabilitative support that the juvenile justice system could have provided.
to the criminal justice system who could be better served by the juvenile Research has demonstrated that the practice of transfer has not
justice system, to provide rehabilitation services that support the deterred youth in the larger community from offending; that with a few
development of youth as valued members of society, and to ensure exceptions, i.e. property offenses, recidivism did not decrease among
community safety. Reform should specifically include: transferred youth, and improved community protection was not evident.
(1) a moratorium on the expansion of eligibility criteria for transfer. One study concluded that the seriousness of re-offending among
(2) limiting transfer only to judicial discretion (or sole authority by transferred youth was greater than for non-transfers. The claim that more
judge). serious offenders are less likely to respond to rehabilitation efforts is not
(3) an elimination of transfers for non-violent offenders. supported by research (Lipsey and Wilson, 1998). Additionally, youth who
(4) an elimination of transfer of first-time offenders. are charged and convicted as adults receive felony records, which in many
(5) the development of specialized facilities for transferred youth. Such states means, for example, that youth are no longer eligible for federal or
facilities would include small living units that are secure and safe; state loans for education or housing, further increasing the chance that
programming that addresses the developmental, educational, they will remain involved in the criminal system. Also, convicted youth
health, mental health, religious, and other special needs of these cannot vote in most jurisdictions which only serves to further marginalize
youth; and adequately staffed with qualified workers to ensure these young people.
safety and specialized programming (Council of Juvenile Waivers and transfers have been disproportionately applied to
Correctional Administrators, 2005). minority communities. In a study of eighteen jurisdictions sponsored by a
coalition of children’s advocates (Juszkiewitcz, 2000), researchers found
The first Juvenile Courts were established approximately one hundred that 82% of transfers involved minority youth, with African-Americans
years ago as an effort to develop a more humane system for youth than accounting for 70% of the transferred youth and Latinos accounting for
that of the criminal justice system. This was driven, in large part, by 23%. In one extreme example of a county in Alabama, African-American
judicial acknowledgement that youth were developmentally quite different youth accounted for 3 out of 10 felony arrests while representing 80
from adults with respect to the law. Youthful offenders were considered to percent of felony cases transferred to adult court African-Americans were
be cognitively and morally immature as compared to their adult overrepresented among nonviolent drug and public order cases sent to the
counterparts and therefore were not deemed as fully responsible as adults. criminal justice system. African-American and Latino youth were more
In addition, youth were thought to be more malleable given their stage of likely than white youth to receive a sentence of adult incarceration as
development and responsiveness to interventions. This concept of opposed to adult probation or other lesser sentences. The use of private
developmental immaturity served as the framework for rehabilitation to attorneys appeared to increase the likelihood of a transfer back to the
prevent future criminal behavior, one of the primary goals of the juvenile juvenile court and lowered conviction rates. However, white youth were
court. twice as likely to be represented by a private attorney and were convicted
The juvenile justice system recognized that those young offenders, less frequently than African-American youth.
who were not amenable to rehabilitation or who were a threat to public Recent studies on incarcerated youth indicate that up to 75% of
safety, would be better dealt with in the criminal justice system. Judges incarcerated youth have a diagnosable mental illness (Cocozza and
were given the authority during the juvenile court’s nascent phase to Skowyra, 2000). A disproportionate number of these youth are victims of
decide if an offense by a youth would be more appropriate for the adult child abuse. Procedures and frequency of mental health screening,
criminal justice system. Due to an increasing rate of youth violence in the assessment, and treatment of mental disorders among incarcerated youth
1980’s and early 1990’s and the perceived failure by juvenile courts to vary widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction; treatment of mental disorders is
deter youth violence, state legislatures enacted a broad range of legal not mandated in most jurisdictions. There is evidence that suggests that
mechanisms by which delinquency cases could be transferred or waived to youth housed in adult detention facilities are nearly five times more likely to
the adult criminal justice system. These legal mechanisms included be sexually assaulted, three times more likely to be assaulted by prison
discretionary waivers (also known as “certification,” “bindover,” “remand,” staff, and fifty percent more likely to be assaulted with a weapon than
“transfer,” or “decline” proceedings), mandatory waivers, presumptive youth in a juvenile facility.
waivers, statutory exclusions, and “once an adult/always an adult” waivers.

Adjudication of Youths as Adults in the Criminal Justice System

The American Psychiatric Association • 1000 Wilson Blvd., Suite 1925 • Arlington, VA 22209-3901
Telephone: (703) 907-7300 • Fax: (703) 907-1085 • Email:
Developmental differences between youth and adults who commit
crimes are great. In situations involving split second decisions, youth are
on average, less mature than adults in the areas of cognition and
emotional development. They tend to be less capable of appreciating the
consequences of their behavior tend to follow the direction of their social
group, are more readily swayed by their peers, are more impulsive and
often demonstrate poor judgment. Many in the criminal justice system are
not be mentally competent to be adjudicated (www.mac-adoldev- As such, criminal justice sanctions are harsh,
unreasonable, and fail to consider youth in a developmental context.
These observations apply specifically to minors who are being adjudicated
in the criminal justice system, and should not be construed to apply to
minors’ cognition and behavior in all other situations.

Cocozza, J, Skowyra, K (2000) Youth with Mental Disorders: Issues and

Emerging Responses. Washington DC: Office of Juvenile Justice and
Delinquency Prevention Journal, 7(1).
Council of Juvenile Correctional Administrators (2005). Position Paper,
Waiver and Transfer of Youths to Adult Systems. Braintree, MA
Griffin, P, Torbet, P, Szymanski, L (1998). Trying Juveniles as Adults in
Criminal Court: An Analysis of State Transfer Provisions. Washington
DC: OJJDP, U.S. Department of Justice.
Juszkiewitcz, J (2000). Youth Crime/Adult Time: Is Justice Served?
Washington DC: Building Blocks for Youth.
Lipsey, M, Wilson, D (1998). Effective Intervention for Serious Juvenile
Offenders: A Synthesis of Research. In Loeber R, Farrington D (eds.)
Serious & Violent Juvenile Offenders: Risk Factors and Successful
Interventions, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
OJJDP (2003). Juvenile Offenders and Victims, National Report Series.
Bulletin. Washington DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice

Adjudication of Youths as Adults in the Criminal Justice System (page 2 of 2)

The American Psychiatric Association • 1000 Wilson Blvd., Suite 1925 • Arlington, VA 22209-3901
Telephone: (703) 907-7300 • Fax: (703) 907-1085 • Email:
In the United States of America (USA) many states are imposing sentences of life without parole
on juveniles. Those most aggressively and disproportionately targeted are minority children.

The Convention On the Rights of the Child has been ratified by 192 nations. The USA is the
only country in the Western Hemisphere to impose these draconian sentences, and is only one of
two countries in the world that have not ratified the United Nations Convention On the Rights of
the Child.

Pursuant to the Convention On the Rights of th Child, Article 37, the imposition of the death
penalty or life without parole sentences on juveniles are prohibited and constitute a human rights
violation. There are over 2,000 people across the USA who are serving sentences of life without
parole for crimes they were accused or convicted of committing when they were children.

The imposition of life sentences without possibility of parole on juveniles is a violation of

additional international treaties which include:

• International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;

• United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice;
• United Nations Guidelines for the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency; United Nations
Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment;
• American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man; and
• Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture

We reject the notion that children are dispensable or incorrigible. It is inhumane to abandon the
inherent dignity of children. Life without parole sentences for children reflects a determination
that there is nothing that can be done to render the child a fit member of society. It is an
unforgiving sentence of permanent banishment — which rejects any concept of redemption or
faith that time, treatment or hard work can promote positive change.

Through intervention, education, therapeutic programming, and genuine care, we can rescue
troubled youth and help them become contributing members of society. Even the U.S. Supreme
Court has affirmed this position:

"It would be misguided to equate the failing of a minor with those of an adult, for a greater
possibility exists that a minor's character deficiencies will be reformed." (Roper v. Simmons, 543
U.S. 551, 125 S.Ct. 1183, 1195 (2005)

By joining this group you are calling for an end to the deplorable practice of sentencing children
to life in prison without the possibility of parole, and calling on members of Congress and state
legislators to abolish this ongoing human rights atrocity.

Facebook URL:

Facebook Group created by The Injustice Must End (TIME) Committee to Free Efren Paredes, Jr.
P.O. Box 858 • Battle Creek, MI 49016 • • •