THE FACE OF A SECOND CHANCE AT REDEMPTION - JEREMIAH BOURGEOIS.
Jeremiah Bourgeois is a legal scholar and the director of The Freedom Project in Washington. He graduated from Adam State University with honors. He earned his bachelor’s degree in legal studies and criminology. And became a columnist for The Crime Report, a criminal news website. He has published articles and commentaries in the American Journal of Criminal Law and is a member of Scribes—The American Society of Legal Writers. In 2019, his legal commentary critiquing the Washington state parole board resulted in a hearing in the Washington State Senate. And he was cited as an authority by the Washington State Court of Appeals who adopted his legal analysis in a landmark ruling that ended unlawful confinement for prisoners. Jeremiah accomplished all of these achievements, while in prison.
Jeremiah Bourgeois spent more than 27 years in various correctional facilities in Washington state beginning at age 14.
In 1992, when he was 14 years old, Washington state charged and convicted him of aggravated murder. He was tried as an adult and sentenced to mandatory life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Like many children who commit murder, Jeremiah was a child of neglect. He dropped out of middle school, and by age 13 he lived on his own. The only influential and authority figure he had in his life was his older brother, who was himself caught up in a life of crime.
On January 5, 1992, Jeremiah Bourgeois’ older brother, Bernard, walked into a grocery store and opened fire. He shot and badly wounded the two co-owners. Bernard was arrested and charged with first-degree assault. During his trial, the two victims of his assault testified for the state. The state found Bernard guilty of the charges on May 9, 1992. A few hours after the guilty verdict was rendered, Jeremiah walked back to the same grocery store and also opened fire in retaliation for the owners’ testimony against his brother. He shot and killed one of the store owners, and wounded another. 
Now in his 40’s Jeremiah is still haunted by the memories of events that transpired on May 9, 1992, when he was only 14 years old. He regrets his actions and fully appreciates the pain and suffering he brought his victims’ families. The past cannot be undone. But to positively influence the future, he has dedicated his life to helping at-risk youths.
A landmark ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, Miller v. Alabama, paved the way for Jeremiah’s freedom. On October 28, 2019, after serving more than 27 years in prison, he was released from prison. Post his release, Jeremiah is enrolled as a full-time law student at Gonzaga University School of Law. He is engaged to be married. And he continues to work with lawyers, law professors, and legislatures on issues relating to child sentencing. It is his goal to see the criminal justice system serve as a transformative institution instead of a purely punitive one.
Jeremiah Bourgeois’ incredibly inspiring story is proof that the Supreme Court got Miller right. In Miller, the Court accepted scientific evidence in the field of developmental psychology and neuroscience that showed that the human brain is not fully formed by adolescence. Specifically, the region of the brain that relates to higher executive functioning like impulse control, planning ahead, and risk avoidance are not fully formed by adolescence. The court relied on these scientific findings as well as its prior rulings in Roper v Simmons  (banning the death penalty for minors) and Graham v. Florida (banning life in prison without parole for juveniles not convicted of homicides), to ban mandatory life in prison for all juveniles including those convicted of homicides. The court further ruled in Montgomery v. Louisiana that its Miller ruling should be applied retroactively.
However, Miller has not gone far enough.
The United States has made some progress in the area of child sentencing since 2005, before when minors could be sentenced to death. However, this progress has not gone far enough. The court’s ruling in Miller requires that the minority of children should be considered a mitigating factor during sentencing. And only those children who are found to be permanently “incorrigible” should be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The Supreme Court did not define exactly what the characteristics of an “incorrigible” child were. Therefore, state judges can exercise their discretion to determine which minors are permanently incorrigible and can sentence such children to life in prison without the possibility of parole. For example, in 2015, an Illinois judge, Angela Petrone, exercised this discretion to resentence Adolfo Davis who was 14 years old at the time he committed his offense, to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Miller, in effect, banned mandatory life in prison without the possibility of parole for minors, but allowed discretionary life sentences.
Scientific findings, as evidenced by Jeremiah’s inspiring transformation, prove that who a child is at age 14 when the brain is partially developed, is not indicative of who the child will be at age 30 when the brain is fully developed. Sentencing a child to life in prison without the possibility of parole prematurely writes off children who could become upstanding members of society as completely irredeemable. It also takes away hope that can serve as a powerful motivator for behavioral change. Additionally, most children who commit capital offenses come from environments that serve as an incubating ground for their criminal behaviors. The solution, therefore, lies in implementing preventative, and interventionist programs that will serve to redirect such children on the right path. Waiting until children commit heinous crimes to lock them up for the rest of their natural lives, is not a sound social policy. When The city of Chicago took this proactive stand in preventing childhood killing, the city saved 193 lives and $1.4 billion in taxpayer money.
The U.S. Supreme Court unequivocally banned the imposition of the death penalty for all minors in Roper. Similarly, the court unequivocally ruled in Graham to ban life in prison without parole for all juveniles not convicted of homicides. It is now time for the Court to unequivocally rule to ban life in prison without the possibility of parole for all minors convicted of homicides. At the heart of the Court’s rulings in Roper, Miller, and Graham is the recognition that a child’s character, unlike that of adults, is not permanently formed. This means that a child’s character can change with age. And when the character of a person who was convicted of homicide as a minor changes with age and maturity so that he no longer poses a threat to society, a pathway should be created for him to earn his freed.
Jeremiah Bourgeois reporting to see his parole officer.[/caption]
Jeremiah had the opportunity to earn his freedom because his sentence was mandatory. Had his sentence been discretionary, he would not have been eligible for parole under Miller. And although Jeremiah had made extraordinary progress in prison, and he no longer posed a threat to society, he would have remained in prison for the rest of his natural life. If that had been so, the only purpose that his continued incarceration would have served would have been purely retributive. And what is to be said of a society that seeks revenge among its most vulnerable members—its children?
 State v. Bourgeois, 82 Wash. App. 314, 917 P.2d 1101 (1996), rev’d, 945 P.2d 1120 (Wash. 1997).
 Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460, 132 S. Ct. 2455 (2012)
 Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551, 125 S. Ct. 1183 (2005)
 Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010)
 Montgomery v. Louisiana, 577 U.S. 190, 136 S. Ct. 718 (2016)
 In 2017, Davis attorneys reached an agreement with a new Chicago prosecutor’s office to re-sentence Davis to 60 years in prison. He became eligible for parole after serving 30 years, and in 2020 he was released from prison.
 James Garbarino, Miller’s Children: Why Giving Teenage Killers a Second Chance Matters for All of Us, § 10 (2018).