Child advocates, religious leaders, mental health professionals, law enforcement officers and civil rights groups have urged California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) to sign legislation that would give juveniles serving life without parole a chance to receive a new minimum sentence.
“The passage of SB 9 speaks volumes for who we are as a society – that we believe kids deserve a second chance,” California state Sen. Leland Yee, a child psychologist and author of the bill, said in August. “The neuroscience is clear – brain maturation continues well through adolescence and thus impulse control, planning, and critical thinking skills are not yet fully developed. SB 9 reflects that science and provides the opportunity for compassion and rehabilitation that we should exercise with minors.”
Brown has until September 30 to sign or veto the Fair Sentencing for Youth Act.
Under the legislation, courts would be able to review cases of juveniles sentenced to life without parole after 15 years. Those who were found to be remorseful and working towards rehabilitation could receive a new minimum sentence of 25 years to life.
There are more than 300 offenders who have been sentenced to die in California’s prisons for crimes they committed when they were under the age of 18, according to Human Rights Watch.
Yee has noted that the United States is the only country were juveniles can serve sentences of life without parole. There is also a substantial racial disparity in sentencing in California. African American juveniles are serving life without parole at a rate that is eighteen times higher than the rate for white juveniles.
"This bill is a common sense measure which provides fairness in juvenile sentencing," San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee, Police Chief Greg Suhr, and Sheriff Vicki Hennessy wrote in a letter to the governor on Tuesday.
"SB 9 will not jeopardize public safety," they added. "Rather, it simply provides an opportunity for those sentenced to life in prison for a crime committed while they were younger than 18 years of age to petition for parole. This piece of legislation acknowledges the human capacity for rehabilitation and provides incentive for those sentenced while juveniles to pursue a path of self-betterment."
[Prison bars via Shutterstock]