Look at this picture. See the bright eyes, the strong arms, the hopeful smile. Meet Dontie Mitchell, incarcerated at the age of seventeen, Dontie has spent over half his life in prison.
Dontie is not eligible for parole for another six years, yet he's served over twenty for a crime committed as a teenager. Since his sentencing, the nation has come to understand that the teen brain is not fully developed and is more susceptible to rash decisions. Since his sentencing, New York State finally "raised the age" when, on April 10,2017 Governor Cuomo signed “raise the age” into law in New York. By October 2019, New York state will no longer automatically prosecute all 16- and 17-year-olds as adults. Prior to this, New York and North Carolina were the only states to still treat 16- and 17-year-old defendants as adults. The law reflects an understanding that teenage brains are not fully developed, and a recognition that minority youth are overrepresented in the criminal justice system.
Unfortunately this new law is not retroactive so it doesn't address current inmates who committed their crimes at 16 or 17. That’s fundamentally unfair to require a person to continue to serve long sentence for a crime even after society has decided it doesn’t merit so many years behind bars. This is why Donties case matters. Why Dontie matters. As I've written here in prior blogs about Dontie, he suffered from childhood trauma, and the systems that were supposed to help him overcome his challenges betrayed him, and he's been paying the price for over twenty years now.
Take another look at this young man, think about how different his picture looks today. He's in his late thirties. He's spent his entire adult life behind bars, and yet he hasn't lost hope. He has taken every opportunity for self improvement and continues to fight for his freedom.
Dontie's clemency application includes twenty six letters of support from people and organizations whom he has reached out to and connected with in spite of his incarceration,.Dontie attended college courses and acquired his certificate in Ministry and Human Services from the New York Theological Society. Imagine what he could do in the free world!
We hope that Dontie will receive clemency and this will help pave the way for other people incarcerated at a young age to finally have a second chance and return to their communities where they can contribute as they have indicated they will do, saving the public millions of dollars.
Please sign the petition here CHANGE.ORG
Or contact his lawyer Eric Dyer at eDyer@barclaydamon.com for more information on how you can support Donties Clemency application.