Youths serving life without parole get second chance in California

SACRAMENTO Sun Sep 30, 2012 6:39pm EDT

Inmates are escorted by a guard through San Quentin state prison in San Quentin, California, June 8, 2012. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

Inmates are escorted by a guard through San Quentin state prison in San Quentin, California, June 8, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Lucy Nicholson

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SACRAMENTO (Reuters) - California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law on Sunday a measure that grants juvenile offenders sentenced to life in prison without parole the chance to petition for their release after serving 25 years.

Roughly 300 inmates in California's prison system have been sentenced to a lifetime behind bars for offenses committed as teenagers, according to the bill's sponsor, state Senator Leland Yee, a Democrat from San Francisco.

Those inmates will now be eligible for parole after serving at least 25 years in prison.

The courts can review their cases after 15 years in prison and lower their sentence to 25 years to life if the juvenile offenders demonstrate remorse and work towards rehabilitation.

"The governor's signature ... is emotional for both the supporters and the opposition, but I am proud that today California said we believe all kids, even those we had given up on in the past, are deserving of a second chance," Yee said in a statement.

Supporters of the bill, including dozens of civil rights organizations, said the United States is the only country in the world where people who were under the age of 18 at the time of their crime serve sentences of life without parole.

The Supreme Court ruled in June that juvenile murderers cannot be given mandatory sentences of life in prison without parole, saying mitigating factors - such as the circumstances surrounding the crime and family background - must be weighed before imposing a sentence.

"There's no question that we can keep the public safe without locking youth up forever for crimes committed when they were still considered too young to have the judgment to vote or drive," Elizabeth Calvin, children's rights advocate at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

The California District Attorney's Association opposed the bill, saying it applies almost exclusively to 16 or 17-year-olds convicted of first-degree murder with special circumstances, and that life without the possibility of parole is an appropriate sentence for them.

Forty-five percent of California's juvenile offenders sentenced to life without parole for involvement in a murder did not actually kill the victim, according to Human Rights Watch.

Many of the youths were acting as lookouts or were caught up in a robbery gone wrong, the group said, leading to a conviction of felony murder or aiding in and abetting a murder.

Brown also signed into law a bill that will slightly increase the number of inmates eligible for compassionate release and medical parole from county jails.

The laws will take effect on January 1.

(Reporting by Mary Slosson; editing by Christopher Wilson)

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Comments (7)
Do we not have enough teens in the general population?

Sep 30, 2012 5:59pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Punishing criminals is necessary in any society but we should be devoting equal if not MORE resources into keeping these crimes from happening in the first place. Educations. Medical Care. Food for children. Some people will commit crime regardless of the circumstances but most do it out of some form of necessity and it can be prevented.

Sep 30, 2012 6:05pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
MikeCNC711 wrote:
This is a tough one. First of all, they are not teens when they are found eligible for this (in at 17, then the 15 year screening comes when a person is 32). If I were a loved one of one of these victims (these sentences do not go out to people who killed one person in a fit of rage, often multiple killings, and mostly for amusement) .. I would struggle with this. If one of my loved ones became a victim of one who was let out at 42 .. I’m sure I would disagree with it. Praise the Lord I am not currently in either class. I believe in second chances, but people only get that sentence when they were (at that point in time) true monsters.

Sep 30, 2012 6:24pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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