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ACLU sues to force state to give juvenile lifers a ‘meaningful and realistic’ chance at parole

Prison (Getty Images)

MADISON — The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit Tuesday, April 30 demanding a federal judge ensure Wisconsin prisoners sentenced to life as juveniles receive a “meaningful and realistic” chance at parole.

The ACLU filed the lawsuit on behalf of five prisoners who were effectively sentenced to life as juveniles on homicide related-charges in the 1980s and 1990s. All of them have been denied parole at least once. One of them, Thaddeus Karow, has been denied six times, according to the filing.

The lawsuit alleges that Wisconsin law doesn’t lay out any standards the state Parole Commission must use when making release determinations and the commission doesn’t evaluate juvenile lifers’ maturity and rehabilitation.

The filing goes on to argue that scientific and psychological studies show children lack maturity and a sense of responsibility so their culpability in crimes is diminished. Life sentences imposed on children are unconstitutional without a real chance at release based on maturity and rehabilitation, the lawsuit contends.

The ACLU wants a judge to certify 120 juvenile lifers as a class and to order that the state grant the class a “meaningful and realistic opportunity to demonstrate their rehabilitation, maturity and readiness for release.”

The lawsuit demands the commission give the class a chance to confront any evidence against them, pay for attorneys to help the class prepare for parole interviews, give the class money for experts such as psychologists and criminologists to testify.

Commission officials didn’t immediately respond to an email message seeking comment. Department of Corrections officials declined to comment.

Gov. Tony Evers declined to comment on the lawsuit during an appearance at the Milwaukee Press Club on Tuesday but did say he believes in the distinction between juvenile and adult prisoners as well as redemption.

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