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. lovetospeak

    well, the sentence shouldent be the way to teachn whos wrong. first things first, make our kids less stupid, less discombobulated about life, and teach them that they shouldent spend lfe on crime. but yes, if they did the crime, they should get the crime, but not life. unless it was a diret crime, such as terroism.
    but why do some many kids think death is cool, such as guns. why? even i cant answer that being a kid.

    August 19, 2011 at 9:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Christopher

      With all due respect, 'right' and 'wrong' are mainly in the eye of the beholder today. Only 4 things that are absolutely 'wrong':

      1. Physically attacking someone else unless they have attacked you or someone else first and it is your last choice to stop that attack, excepting if you are both in a sports arena where you both know you are going to attack each other.
      2. Killing someone else unless they try to kill you first and it is your last choice to stop that attack.
      3. Stealing from someone else unless it is your last choice between you and death.
      4. Forcing someone to do or not do something that they do not or do wish to do, regardless of age or lack of age and s exual or not, unless they are damaging property not their own or causing a direct physical danger to someone else at that very moment.

      Those are the ONLY 4 things that are absolutely wrong in the world today and society would do better to ONLY enshrine those things into law, because they cover EVERYTHING that needs to be illegal today, even white collar crime.

      August 21, 2011 at 1:09 am | Report abuse |
  2. Rick

    second chance to redo another serious crime more efficiently nice bill to propose by a Liberal As%!?%#

    August 19, 2011 at 10:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ned Racine

      Kind of an idiot, aren't you?

      August 20, 2011 at 8:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Deborah

      California is on the verge of, if not in the midst of bankruptcy, so I can see why they are trying to cut costs. Unfortunately, they are trying to cut them from the wrong place. These gang-bangers are dangerous. Don't ever think different.

      August 21, 2011 at 4:58 am | Report abuse |
  3. sadie

    Just what we need more killers

    August 19, 2011 at 11:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ned Racine

      Just what we need. More stupid comments.

      August 20, 2011 at 8:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • yannaes

      Hey Ned, thank for your "stupid" comment!

      August 22, 2011 at 1:00 am | Report abuse |
  4. james

    @et79: in most states if you're involved in a crime and someone is murdered you're just as guilty as the person who pulled the trigger even if you were only the driver.

    August 20, 2011 at 5:55 am | Report abuse |
    • Christopher

      With all due respect, that law is stupid to be blunt on the subject.

      August 21, 2011 at 1:07 am | Report abuse |
  5. james

    @Fred: maybe if you had been personally affected by one of these kids your views would be somewhat different. Why don't you talk to someone who's had a family member killed by a kid then get back to us.

    August 20, 2011 at 5:58 am | Report abuse |
  6. Mr Polite

    Keep them in jail!

    August 20, 2011 at 7:12 am | Report abuse |
    • CanadianPerspective

      I 100% agree, keep them in jail! Voting and driving requires more critical thinking skill compared to right and wrong. Heck, even my own teens and tween knows that it's an unforgivable act to murder another person!

      August 20, 2011 at 7:15 pm | Report abuse |
  7. John Deer

    August 20, 2011 at 1:25 pm | Report abuse |

    August 20, 2011 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
  9. kareny

    I completely agree with this bill.

    August 20, 2011 at 8:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Christopher

      So do I...... I've known for MANY years that some people will do something when they are young and frustrated that they will regret later in their lives and won't ever do again. There is NO justification to ruin their WHOLE LIFE for one stupid act, even if it is murdering someone else, unless it is MASS murder.

      August 21, 2011 at 1:08 am | Report abuse |
  10. kimsland

    (Apologies if this gets posted twice, as I can't see my comment so resubmitting it)

    Life without parole is not allowed for offenders under 18 except in cases of murder.

    Therefore we are ONLY speaking of 'murder' cases that a juvenile has been found guilty of; as all other cases are given parole after so many years (15 years for an adult, likely 10 or less for a juvenile)

    Part of the 'life' sentencing is not just to punish the criminal for their actions. But is there to give respect to the families of the deceased, and to act as a deterrent for other would be offenders. Any life is worth saving not killing.

    Since minimum 15 years is imposed, for life sentencing before parole, this is looked at a reasonable amount of time for all concerned. ie If a child of 14 committed murder, they would likely be out by age 29. This itself allowing their 'brain' (as stated) to fully develop and basically for them to see the wrongs of their original ways.

    If a child murderer, was say let out of prison in 4 years (in this example, now being 18) they would not have the brain development to fully understand the implications of the original (murder) crime. And therefore could, quite reasonably speaking, do it again!

    Therefore, I say NO to any new reform in this sensitive area.

    August 21, 2011 at 7:29 am | Report abuse |
    • mike

      I suggest anyone that think California prisoners with life sentences can get out of jail to do some more research. Prisoners in California sentenced to life in jail WITH possibility of parole is close to 0% chance to come out! In most cases that I know of that involved murder from 2nd to 1st degree, it will have "life" attached to it. For example: 15 years to life with possibility to parole or 20 to 25 years to life with possibility to parole. The "with possibility" to parole is just for show, currently, it's close to 0% for inmates to come out in California. So don't make it sound like 10 years to life will grant the prisoner a guarantee chance to get out after serving 10 years, it's more like 99.9% a life sentence. Just to make it a point, the judge can give a 1st degree murderer a 2 years to life with possibility to parole in California and it's still a full punnishment. The prisoner will not get out anyway. Stupid law! Ever wonder why we are in such a mess right now?

      August 22, 2011 at 10:09 pm | Report abuse |
  11. rachael

    Teenagers know what is wrong and right. They all know what they do and is wrong when they kill a person. In school they know they have to get good grades in order to graduate. It's dumb that they say, we don't know what we were doing. They shouldn't pass the bill. It's like if they are saying it's o.k. to kill because the brain is not working or functioning. They are going to be using that with all the teenagers now. Don't know what I was doing. Come on.

    August 21, 2011 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse |
  12. yannaes

    A One year old knows wrong from right. Mommy can I have cookie, No you may not have a cookie, mommy leaves the room, the kid looks around to see if mommy is there, she is not..good, I will now have my cookie! Little thief!

    August 22, 2011 at 12:56 am | Report abuse |
  13. Mary

    I hope they take this on a case by case basis and not just some umbrella policy. There's a big difference in a kid from a crackhead mother who got involved in a gang-style drive by shooting in comparing him to the creepy kid next door who has killled another child for pleasure and will do it again.

    August 22, 2011 at 9:36 am | Report abuse |
  14. rocentric

    Only in Cali....

    August 22, 2011 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • mike

      look up life sentence for juvenile offenders on google. You will understand that your comment is a fail.

      below are the countries that currently have life sentence for juvenile. where is UK, germany, france, italy, china, etc...
      Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Cuba, Dominica, Israel, Nigeria, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, the Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Tanzania and the United States. Of these, only the United States currently have minors serving such sentences.

      Read the last sentence in the quote, we are the worst of them all.

      August 22, 2011 at 11:19 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Annie

    If you're adult enough to take life from another human being, then you're adult enough to face the consequences...

    August 22, 2011 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse |
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