The other day I saw a stat that I can’t vouch for but seemed accurate. He said polls show that when you ask Americans if inmates should be allowed to pursue an education, a majority say no. But if you ask if inmates should be forced to go to school, the majority say yes. Which says a lot about how Americans view the prison system as a vehicle for senseless punishment.
Regardless of what anyone thinks, there are people trying to bring education into prisons and a program is about to mark a historic first.
Maureen Onyelobi is set to become the first law student incarcerated at an ABA-accredited law school this fall. The Mitchell Hamline School of Law will have Onyelobi take online courses toward a JD degree, giving new meaning to the idea of a prison attorney.
By bringing the news:
Onyelobi’s historic acceptance follows a path blazed by The Prison to Law Pipeline, an extension of an existing partnership between Mitchell Hamline and the criminal justice reform nonprofit, All Square.
The first cohort of students in the pipeline includes Onyelobi – the first and only doctoral researcher in law – and five paralegal students.
On the one hand, Onyelobi’s life sentence without the possibility of parole severely limits the value of this diploma. On the other hand, the circumstances of her incarceration suggest that – in a saner world – she would one day be released.
Onyelobi’s conviction stems from a 2014 murder where she lured a man outside and one of her associates killed him. Shooter testifies that ‘he never told Onyelobi of his intention to shoot Fairbanks and had no reason to believe she knew of his plans’, but prosecutors used felony rule of murder to sentence her to life without parole.
The guy who actually murdered the victim got a 40-year sentence and is eligible for parole.
There is a certain cold, mechanistic logic to the criminal murder rule. You don’t want to trick people into advancing deadly criminal plots and walking away because they manage to stay above the fray of real violence. Anyone who volunteers to be a lookout knows they are taking a bigger risk when they sign up.
But assuming there’s always value in holding someone criminally responsible for something they didn’t actually do, the criminal murder rule crops up again and again in these egregious miscarriages of justice. It’s hard to justify the maximalist approach to the rule as it is and there’s always hope that lawmakers will someday end up tossing it out altogether or at the very least converting it into a crime with its own penalty. more reasonable.
Meanwhile, Onyelobi continues to ask for forgiveness while continuing his law studies.
Lifer sentenced woman accepted to Mitchell Hamline Law School [Bring Me The News]
Joe Patrice is an editor at Above the Law and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. Feel free to email tips, questions or comments. Follow him on Twitter if you’re interested in law, politics, and a healthy dose of college sports news. Joe is also Managing Director at RPN Executive Search.