For the first time in Massachusetts Parole Board history, an inmate sentenced to life without parole is being granted parole. Frederick Christian, convicted of first degree murder at age 17, will be the first inmate from Massachusetts to benefit from recent Supreme Court decisions banning life without parole sentences for juvenile criminals. Because of his model inmate status, Christian’s release should be used as study of prison rehabilitation and understanding of juvenile criminal behavior.
Christian, now 37, served 15 years of a life without parole sentence for his part in the 1994 murder of two men in an attempted armed robbery. While not the gunman, Christian was an accomplice to the murders, then evaded police until his arrest. He was found guilty of first degree murder in 1998, receiving two life sentences without parole.
Court Rulings Limit Sentences for Juveniles
In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that mandatory life sentences without parole were unconstitutional. According to the Court, the ruling was based in part upon scientific data that suggested that differences in “behavior control” between the brain of juveniles and adults was critical in determining the ruling. Later in 2013, the Massachusetts Supreme Court further defined that life without parole sentences for juvenile offenders were no longer valid and that these inmates should be considered for parole.
Christian’s Rehabilitation Ideal Test Case
Frederick Christian, despite having a life without parole sentence, took advantage of available rehabilitation programs long before the Supreme Court decisions in 2012 and 2013. He completed his GED. He found religion (Islam) and also participated in other programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, the Garden Program (growing vegetables at the prison), and Toastmasters – an organization aimed to help people with public speaking. Christian specifically credits the “Alternatives to Violence” program as being the most beneficial to his developing control of his anger.
Another “Willie Horton”
According to the 2011 “State of Recidivism” report by the Pew Center on the States, approximately 42% of released Massachusetts inmates from 2004 – 2007 returned to prison, including 33% after committing a new crime.
Moreover, Massachusetts’ residents are also reminded of another famous instance of a prisoner being allowed to leave prison. Reverend Irene Monroe summarized this fear with one name during a recent interview on the “Jim and Margery” show on WGBH radio: “Willie Horton”.
Horton was convicted of rape in 1974 and was released under the Massachusetts “furlough” program by then-Governor Michael Dukakis. Horton proceeded not to return, instead attacking and raping a woman.
For many Bay State residents, the thought of a violent criminal being paroled when the judicial system sentenced him to two without parole is worrisome. Instances like “Willie Horton” cause fear in society and promote a “lock the doors and throw away the key” mentality. For them, inmates rehabilitating themselves make less sense than prison being a deterrent for future criminal activities.
Frederick Christian: The Case Study
Despite public concerns, the Christian case presents a near ideal case – a model inmate seemingly rehabilitated after making very poor choices as a teenager. Whether supportive of more prison rehabilitation or more punitive measures for prisoners, the lessons of Christian’s success or failure should be used to enhance these processes for the betterment of society.