GRAND RAPIDS (WWJ/AP) – Michigan inmates serving mandatory life sentences without parole for crimes they committed as minors may have a chance to pursue freedom rather than spend the rest of their lives behind bars.

A U.S. Supreme Court decision handed down Monday challenges Michigan law by stating such juvenile sentencing constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.

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Deb Labelle, an attorney who represents several juvenile lifers on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, told the opinion “provides hope” to 358 Michigan prisoners serving mandatory life sentences after being convicted of murder as minors.

Six of those inmates were only 14 years old when they broke the law. About one in three did not commit the actual killing but were convicted of either aiding and abetting the  crime or of being involved in other wrongdoing when it occurred.

Labelle said the offender’s age now will have to be considered, along with rehabilitation.

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“Finally their age at the time they committed the offense will have to be taken into consideration and the hope that their maturity and rehabilitation will be recognized and they’ll be able to go home,” she said.

Michigan ranks second to Pennsylvania, which has 472 prisoners who were sentenced to life without parole as juveniles.

“These life without parole sentences ignore the very real differences between children and adults, abandoning the concepts of redemption and second chances,” Labelle has said.

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