California bill could give juveniles in prison for life a second chance
The California State Legislature is considering a bill that aims to re-examine juveniles’ life prison terms after 15 years.
August 18th, 2011
12:00 PM ET

California bill could give juveniles in prison for life a second chance

A controversial bill headed for a vote in California has stirred up conversation again about whether life sentences for juveniles need to be re-examined.

Under the state bill, which received a key vote Wednesday to allow it to head to the Assembly floor for a vote, some juvenile offenders would get the opportunity for release.

At the heart of the bill is a question that's been pondered by legal scholars, law enforcement and even the Supreme Court: Should juveniles who have committed crimes that led to a life prison sentence be given a second chance?

The bill, introduced by Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, would allow juveniles to ask a court to re-examine their sentences after they have served 15 years for their crime. Yee, who is also a child psychologist, argues that at certain ages, kids don't have the full capacity to understand their crimes, and locking juveniles up without giving them a chance to show they have gained that capacity isn't the right answer.

“The neuroscience is clear – brain maturation continues well through adolescence and thus impulse control, planning, and critical thinking skills are not yet fully developed,” Yee said in a statement. “SB 9 reflects that science and provides the opportunity for compassion and rehabilitation that we should exercise with minors."

California law allows kids as young as 14 to be sentenced to life without parole for certain crimes.

Yee said that no other countries besides the U.S. have life in prison as a sentence for juveniles. And in California alone, 290 kids have been given that sentence.

He said the goal is not to pass a bill that is a "get-out-of-jail-free card." Instead, he wants to allow more chances to rehabilitate children if they are fit to have a reduced sentence and show they have changed since they were young children.

But opponents say the bill would traumatize crime victims and their families.

John Lovell, a lobbyist for the California Police Chiefs Association, told the San Francisco Chronicle that families might "re-experience" trauma when the convicted inmate petitions for a new sentence. That could happen up to three times – once for each time inmate could petition the court for a new sentence.

"This is not something you get closure with. It's something that stays with these people all the time," he told the paper. "There is another remedy. ... If some kind of brain development issue has changed, you can always remedy that by going to the governor and seeking a commutation."

But commutation is not the option that advocates want. Instead, they want a process to allow the inmates to ask the court to reassess them. Elizabeth Calvin, a children's rights advocate with Human Rights Watch, argued that if teens aren't considered to have the brain development and judgment for other things in life - like voting - their judgment, when it comes to crime, should also be viewed that way. And children sentenced to life in prison should get the chance to show they have changed the way they make decisions, she said.

“In California, a sentence of life without parole is a sentence to die in prison,” Calvin said in a statement. “Teenagers are still developing.  No one – not a judge, a psychologist, or a doctor – can look at a 16-year-old and be sure how that young person will turn out as an adult. It makes sense to re-examine these cases when the individual has grown up and becomes an adult.

"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.”

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Filed under: California • Courts • Crime • Justice
soundoff (368 Responses)
  1. Corrupter

    You can not label someone into something they are not. Therefore, you can not sentence a child as an adult; because they are not an adult. it's simple logic. It doesn't matter what they have done. The purpose of our justice system is not revenge, it is to deter future crime and protect society. Putting a 16 year old in prison until he is an adult only create an adult criminal. Any chance for rehabilitation or personal growth is lost.

    It is time we as adults grow up.

    August 18, 2011 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Fred

      ok little johnny we caught you raping and killing the 14 year old girl next door , thats a bad boy, no dessert for you tonight now off to school before your late .... idiot

      August 18, 2011 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • S

      Actually, I think it does matter, what they have done.

      August 18, 2011 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • john

      These people are worthless, not even worth feeding them, neaver mind letting them out to commit crimes.

      August 18, 2011 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bill

      Guess nobody in your family has been murdered by a 15 year old.

      August 18, 2011 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Penny

      You have no idea what you are talking about. Just wait until some 14 or 15 year old breaks into your house, finds your son or daughter home and kills them in a struggle. A 14 or 15 year old KNOWS in the first place that stealing is wrong but now they have added murder and you think they shouldn't spend their life in prison. Think before you post something – it makes you look stupid.

      August 18, 2011 at 3:01 pm | Report abuse |
  2. rey

    the justice system is totally screwed up anyway.. most of the time a life sentence only ends up being like 25 to 40 years anyway. And getting put on death row doesn't seem to bother most criminals because it takes YEARS before they are ever executed anyway.. heard of one inmate the other day who had been on death row in the usa for 56 years he died in his cell of a heart attack.. whats the point. some people here have said forget the life sentence and just kill the kids.. why bother they would have to go on death row and would still get 50 or more years in jail so they are still getting the same as they are now and they are still eating better meals then people living in low income house's. and your tax money pays for it. if they can really be rehabilitated then do it and get them back out in society and make them work like everyone else. dont leave them sitting in a jail cell for everyone else to pay for them to have full means and excersize time and gerneraly being lazy. but hey if you like having your tax dollars spent on taking care of someone sitting in jail feel free. personaly i feel my taxes could be put to better use like lowering gas prices fixing roads improving schools and health care..

    August 18, 2011 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse |
  3. MDC

    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.”

    You couldn't keep the public safe before they were incarcerated. Utter nonsense.

    August 18, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Fred

    ok so lets give them a second chance after 15 years , but with the stipulation if they ever commit another felony ,any felony, then they are eligible for the death penalty ,if they really want a second chance and not a get out of jail free card then not commiting a felony should be easy right ?

    August 18, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
  5. nick

    If we used any common sence we would have sent the killers and life without prole to afganistan who ever said it is our duty as taxpayers to pay and house these elks of life we were given the right of free will and those of whom failed in judgment should and must pay the ultimate price The law eye for eye, tooth for tooth ,Life without a doubt for a life .is what is wrong with our country today China does not have this non sence going on 30 days after you have been found guilty of muder and they really do have fair hearings there (see you tube clips ) taken outside and shot in the street no more boo Whos and i was raised by bad parents so it is ok for me to kill crap . i was a victem of my enviorment this is crazy next we will just say it is ok that our country is going down the toilet due to are leadership is playing golf to much .

    August 18, 2011 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
  6. razzi

    I want to point out that a "victim" is not necessarily a person who has been killed. "Victims" grow up to have real issues due to the offenses committed against them that need to be addressed. This can be state funded rehab and many times prison time themselves due to the choices they make after being a victim – of course, funded by the taxpayers. That being said it is hard to imagine not giving people another chance, but I'm not sure we should chance it too often. Glad the decision is not up to me.

    August 18, 2011 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
  7. artur

    If it was my case I would love my child to have such as opportunity

    August 18, 2011 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
  8. jennha

    CNN – what happened to my post? There was nothing offensive in it. Your policy is not to "pre-screen," anyway. I got a message after hitting post that I'd attempted to post the same post twice – Not even one has appeared.

    August 18, 2011 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
  9. john

    If you want them to have parole, just give them a life sentence with the possibility of parole. If they get a life sentence without parole, then thats what the got. God damn liberals always trying to back trade everything.

    August 18, 2011 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
  10. mskat

    Unless a child is between the ages of 2-maybe 5 if they kill someone they should be sentenced to life in prison. (if it was done on purpose) accidental shootings, no they shouldn't spend life in prison. As parents we need to teach our kids right from wrong. They should know its not acceptable to hurt or kill anyone. My kids where allowed to play with toy guns but they know not to point them at anyone. Come on people an Eye for an Eye. Its not fair to allow a murdering child to spend 15 yrs in jail then let them go free cause they where a child when it happpened. What about the life they took??? That person doesn't get another chance when this murderer goes free.

    August 18, 2011 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Jennifer

    Just some food for thought: Phillip Garrido was a model prisoner and was released early. He was also on probation and registered as a s e x offender. And while he was on probation, he kidnapped Jaycie Dugard when she was 8, held her and held her captive for years

    Somehow I'm not feeling all warm and fuzzy about the parole system determining who would be good candidates for early release.

    August 18, 2011 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Ron

    Maybe if Obama hands out a welfare check they will not commit crimes anymore!

    August 18, 2011 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Bates

    Life is Life, life isn't 15 years. You get sentenced to life, you stay for life.

    August 18, 2011 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
  14. not dr. spock

    Kids do horrible crimes because, they know that no one can do anything or much about it. they use it to their advantage to be criminals on purpose.that is an act of an adult criminal period. they should stay and rot, to detour other smart guys like them who wish to follow. California if you let them out you will get to enjoy a barrage of crime waves, from them for letting them out.. no crying about the mistake it was to let them out!

    August 18, 2011 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Here is logic for you

    I hope they get a second chance. Logic: There seems to be a clear double standard that is highlighted by this article. The fact that adults can be prosecuted for s e x with minor is because it is deemed the minor is not capable of choosing or understanding the choice to engage in the “adult” activity. Yet we do prosecute minors as adults under the premise that they do have the capacity to make these adult decisions. What would you rather subscribe to??

    August 18, 2011 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
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