Video above by Jody White Productions, LLC
1 in 7 U.S. prisoners is serving life, and two-thirds of those are people of color
National Lifers Association, dozens of endorsers, call for Second Look laws to allow review of LWOP sentences after no more than 20 years
Most countries in the world do not sentence prisoners to actual death in prison with no substantive review leading to release
Michigan joins 24 states now considering Second Look legislation
“I think everyone should have an opportunity to get out some day”—Ingham County Pros. Carol Siemon
By Ricardo Ferrell, VOD Field Editor
October 18, 2021
HAPPY 63rd BIRTHDAY, RICARDO!
VOD Field Editor Ricardo Ferrell covered the “Second Look” Rally at Michigan’s Capitol in Lansing October 14 from a prison cell at MDOC’s Gus Harrison Correctional Facility, calling participants for their comments and impressions.
Ferrell observed his 63rd birthday Oct. 12, two days before the event. He has been in prison since 1982, nearly four decades, on a questionable parolable life charge of 2nd-degree murder. Despite his achievements, he has been denied parole numerous times. He has become a dedicated journalist and advocate for those incarcerated with him during those years. VOD has published more than 40 of his articles and he has been published on other media sites, including . To read his VOD articles, put his name in the search engine at the top right of VOD’s home page.
Ricardo Ferrell is a shining example among thousands of men and women who should have their life sentences capped at 20 years in the battle to end mass incarceration, as the National Sentencing Project advocates. Globally, most countries allow substantive review of life sentences which can result in parole, after 15-20 years. Only a handful of countries mandate death by incarceration, as does the U.S., for those sentenced to life terms.
LANSING, MI — On the afternoon of the rally, I called David Stinson who attended the gathering and was able to listen in on what sounded like a large crowd. Stinson, who was present during the October 2019 rally told me it looked like there was a bigger turn out than the previous event, including lawmakers and many stakeholders.
The climate surrounding the State Capital, according to Stinson appeared to be shifting in a progressive direction and showing a lot of promise. Stinson is advocating for his father David Shelton, incarcerated for 28 years since Stinson was a child. Shelton is asking the State Conviction Integrity Unit to review the racially motivated Oakland County case which resulted in David Shelton being wrongfully convicted of rape. His appeals have failed despite evidence at the scene that shows a white man committed the crime.
I also spoke with National Organization of Exonerees member Larry Smith Jr., and he said, “Ricardo, the time is coming where we will finally see comprehensive criminal justice restructuring to be reflective of reducing the prison system and releasing folks like yourself locked up 40 years too damn long. Just look at how James Harris has been in there 51 years under the abolished felony murder statute. He didn’t pull the trigger but he’s still sitting in there for over half a century, man this system has got to be fixed and fast.”
The family of Terrell Spencer traveled to Lansing last week to join the NLA sponsored rally in hopes of bringing attention to their loved one’s plight. Spencer who is serving a 42-80 year sentence out of Wayne County has been incarcerated now for 23 years, and as a first time offender with no adult criminal history, has an outrageous long indeterminate sentence that represents what’s long been termed a disproportionate sentence which appears to have been given to him, in a disparate fashion.
His sisters and aunt were calling on legislators and those in authority to take a Second Look at his sentence. They wore t-shirts with his name and photo and were spreading the word among gatherers.
I spoke with Spencer afterwards asking him his take on the efforts of his family and supporters during the rally. He responded, “My baby sister Latrena who was only 2 when I left, she told me that the politicians are trying to help us, but they need their help in the community in order for their efforts and mission to be impactful and complete.”
He also shared a conversation he had with his aunt Ann who has attended other rallies in the past concerning prison and criminal justice reforms and she seems to believe that the efforts being put forth now are headed in the right direction and will yield the necessary results organizations and concerned citizens have been fighting the past two-three decades for in an effort to effect the change needed to fix the broken system.
If the State of Michigan wants to get serious about reforming its criminal justice system, then its going to require the State Legislators, Judges, Prosecutors and Advocacy Organizations, all to get on the same page and get smart on crime and justice. Draconian practices and policies driven by outdated and ineffective approaches needs to change now!!!
MOST COUNTRIES HAVE NO LWOP; 25 STATES HAVE LEGISLATION PENDING TO END IT
By Diane Bukowski, VOD editor
October 20, 2021
LANSING, MI--Ingham County Prosecutor Carol Siemon, the keynote speaker at the Oct. 14 Second Look Rally, spoke in support of statewide sentencing reforms, including legislation that “would allow courts to re-evaluate sentencing after inmates serve a certain amount of time in prison.”
Her office said Michigan Senators Stephanie Chang and Jeff Irwin, who also attended the rally, plan to introduce this legislation, with the support of a coalition of reform advocates.
“The severity of the crime used to be the only thing we really looked at,” Siemon told Lansing’s City Pulse when she announced a review of the sentences of ninety Ingham County lifers earlier this year. Over 60 elected prosecutors and law enforcement leaders, have called for such legislation, with several prosecutors’ offices having launched such sentence review units.
“If someone committed a crime 20 years ago, that tells me who they were then. However, it’s not always who they still are now. . . . I’m not here to do vengeance. It’s not my job. If you’re a prosecutor, it can be really hard to go against this sort of law and order because people think you don’t care but that’s simply not true. I do care.”
Siemon has since faced concerted attacks on this issue.
Washtenaw County Prosecutor Eli Savit and Asst. Prosecutor Victoria Burton-Harris also attended the rally, speaking with families of prisoners.
“To end mass incarceration we must address life sentences,” says the national Sentencing Project. “A record one of every seven people in U.S. prisons is serving a life sentence. [One of five African American prisoners are lifers.] While most have committed a violent offense, research finds that people age out of criminal behavior — producing diminishing returns for public safety.
“The financial and moral costs of life imprisonment also burden communities by diverting vital resources from crime prevention and social intervention programs. This country needs a crime policy rooted in research and mercy. It’s time to end life imprisonment.”
According to the Sentencing Project, Washington, D.C., California, and New York have already passed forms of Second Look legislation, including special considerations for juvenile lifers and elderly prisoners. Now, lawmakers in 25 states. including Minnesota, Vermont, West Virginia, and Florida, have recently introduced such legislation.
At the federal level, the Second Look Act would appoint federal judges to consider petitions for sentence reduction after 10 years.
LIFE SENTENCES ACROSS THE WORLD
“In most of Western Europe, for example, a life sentence actually means that after a minimum term of 12 to 25 years, the prisoner becomes eligible for parole,” according to figures compiled by the Reeves Law Group. “However, in most of Europe, prisoners who are considered to be dangerous can be sentenced to “indefinite detention” despite eligibility for parole.”
The Law Group reports that judges determine the minimum term for eligibility for parole or ‘early release’ for each defendant, with the average minimum term at 15 years. In exceptionally grave cases, a judge can issue a “whole life order” meaning natural life.
In France, Germany, Denmark and Poland, life prisoners are eligible for parole from between 12 to 25 years. In Denmark, such prisoners serve an average of 16 years, while in Poland, the highest maximum prison term is 50 years, according to figures compiled by the Law Group.
“In Latin America, life imprisonment [without parole] exists in only six countries: Argentina, Chile, Cuba, Honduras, Mexico and Peru,” says the Bloomsbury Report. “Considering that this geographic and linguistic area is made up of 19 countries, this proportion seems to suggest that Latin American legal systems are characterized by low levels of punitiveness, especially when compared with other geographic areas in which life sentences are widely used . . .”