Ann Arbor attorney cites violations of UN Convention as criminal and costly

In mid-May at the United Nations, government representatives called on the U.S. to end the practice of trying youth under 18 in the adult criminal justice system and incarcerating youth in adult jails and prisons. Representatives also called for the U.S. to fully abolish life imprisonment without parole sentences for youth and to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). The CRC obligates governments to treat youth under 18 in conflict with the law as youth, to pursue alternatives to detaining youth, and to detain them only as a measure of last resort. The U.S. and Somalia are the only two nations in the world that have failed to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

“The state of Michigan could have prevented many prison rapes and other serious crimes if it had followed the UN Convention on the Child and the state’s own rules,” said Deborah LaBelle, director of the Juvenile Life Without Parole Initiative. “Much pain and suffering and taxpayer money for legal fees could have been saved if the Department of Corrections had at least separated adult and juvenile inmates per Michigan Law. Moreover, young people are much easier to rehabilitate in juvenile facilities as the Convention recommends.”

Ann Arbor attorney Deb Labelle brought the suit against the Michigan Department of Corrections based on failures of staff to protect prisoners from violence and the systematic failure to keep minors separated from adults. It’s a class action lawsuit on behalf of hundreds of youth ages 14–17 who are or were housed in adult prisons and were inadequately supervised to protect them from assault, abuse and degradation.
he UN calls for the U.S. to recognize the rights of children came during the U.S.’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR). During the UPR, the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) reviews the human rights records of all member states of the UN every four years. The Juvenile Life Without Parole Initiative and the International Women’s Human Rights (IWHR) Clinic at CUNY School of Law submitted a report to the HRC in advance of the U.S. review, detailing the human rights violations youth face in the adult criminal system and in adult detention centers.
ustria and Fiji encouraged the U.S. to abolish life without parole sentences (LWOP) for youth in all circumstances. Although the Supreme Court abolished LWOP sentences for youth convicted of non-homicide offenses, and banned mandatory LWOP for those convicted of homicide, judges can still elect to sentence youth to LWOP for homicide. Additionally, some states impose life-equivalent term-of-year sentences without parole on youth, and some refuse to apply the Supreme Court decisions retroactively for people currently serving LWOP sentences for offenses committed as youth. Where states do provide a parole review, in some cases it does not meet the Supreme Court’s standard of a “meaningful” opportunity for parole.