Efren Paredes, Jr. was a 16-year-old Latino honors student in southwest Michigan, not far from Chicago, when he was convicted of armed robbery and first degree murder for the shooting death of grocery store manager Rick Tetzlaff. He was found guilty and sentenced to multiple life terms. He is among the 300 people in the state of Michigan who were under 18 when they were sentenced to life without parole. Today Efren is 35, and he maintains his innocence. The victim’s family, are convinced otherwise.
I don’t want to argue Efren’s guilt or innocence, mostly because in my initial scan of the Internet I am finding it difficult to find any unbiased information regarding his case. The point I do want to make is that sentencing people under 18 to life without parole is wrong on many levels, the most basic of which is that it violates their most basic human rights.
I have talked about the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, or CRC, several times. The CRC is the world’s most widely supported treaty, with only two countries withholding signatures: the United States and Somolia, and this case shows why the US is; Somolia has not had a functioning government for more than 15 years. The CRC expressly prohibits the death penalty and imposition of life without parole against children and youth. As of last month the United States is the only country in the world that imposes life without parole sentences on people under 18. The mainstream media and several advocacy organizations, including Freechild, American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and other have called attention to the matter.
SPECIFIC to Efren’s case, a recent survey showed that a majority of Michigan residents support giving juvenile offenders the opportunity for rehabilitation. This may have led to the early 2008 Michigan House committee which took up the issue of juvenile incarceration, only to defer decision-making as of last January. Few studies have been conducted as to the effectiveness of juvenile incarceration in Michigan, and apparently none in Michigan have examined the effectiveness of sentencing children and youth to lifelong prison sentences, both in terms of the individual offender and on potential offenders.