Dontie Mitchell was a first-time offender for a crime he committed at 17 — but was still sentenced as an adult to 35-70 years in prison. His sentence is comparable to that of a murderer, although no one was murdered in his crime. He’s now spent over half his life in prison and isn’t eligible for parole for another 6 years.
Mitchell had a difficult childhood — he witnessed abuse, his father wasn’t around and his mother was addicted to drugs. He was removed from his mother’s care at 11 and spent time in various foster homes before aging out of the system. After moving in with his aunt, he was introduced to concept of crime and begin trying out robberies with his cousin. He then held up a McDonalds using two guns, and was given the maximum sentence for the crime when he was caught. His sentence was later reduced to between 25 and 50 years because of state sentencing laws.
He is now suing the governor and the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, saying the prison system hasn’t done enough in terms of treatment for juvenile offenders with long prison sentences. With 6 years left in his sentence, he has applied to the governor’s office for early release through clemency.