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. JPlease

    Corrupter. You even state it yourself deter future crime and protect society. If a youth is given a life sentence it's not for revenge its to protect society period! Putting anyone in prison has the potential to create a better criminal. I don't believe life sentences are handed out like candy to a trick or treater. The fact is there are consequences for your actions and some actions deserve life in prison because of there heinous nature.

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

    Leave it to Kalifornistan to try and let murderers loose on society. If they pass this ridiculous measure, then make sure to stipulate that they can't leave your crappy state, as the rest of us don't want your garbage!

    August 18, 2011 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • V. P.

      I can almost bet that there is garbage in every state. I do agree that this law shouldn't be passed. But why should they have to keep these criminals in California? My child just got stationed there and I certainly wouldn't apprreciate the idea of some delinquent doing something to her.

      August 18, 2011 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Heywood Jablowme

      I can sympathize that your daughter may be stationed there, but I believe the vast majority of people don't want CA's murderers in their state, particularly if they are given a free pass by CA whackadoos.

      August 18, 2011 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
  3. fidgetwidget

    Instead of thinking up excused for bad behavior, it's time the adults in this world who have decided to have children take some responsibility and raise their offspring rather than turning those kids over to computers, TV, video games, etc. It's also time to bring back corporal punishment and every eye in the neighborhood watching out for every kid in that neighborhood and ratting the ones who misbehave out to their parents. It's time to make these kids understand who really is the boss – the adults and not them.

    I don't give a d@mn whether or not the kid's brain is "mature" and neuroscience is NOT an exact science. It is the parents' responsibility to instill moral values. Wait...light bulb!... Not only should the kids be put in prison, so should the parents. If the parents were punished right along with their kids when their kids break the law, you can bet the farm that kids would be taught to behave properly....

    August 18, 2011 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Nikki

    HASN'T ANYONE NOTICED THAT THE U.S. SUPREME COURT RULED OVER A YEAR AGO THAT JUVENILES CANNOT BE INCARCERATED FOR LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE FOR ANY CRIME EXCEPT MURDER. In May 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court limited life sentences without parole for young criminals, striking down laws in 37 states that allow life terms with no chance for parole for crimes that do not involve murder. The Supreme Court ruled it is cruel and unusual punishment to give a criminal, who was under 18 at the time of the crime, a life term in prison with no chance for parole for a crime other than murder. Human Rights Watch hailed the decision as bringing U.S. law into line with international standards of justice.

    August 18, 2011 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Skeptical

      Site the case please.

      August 18, 2011 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Mary Martin

    We don't know the cirumstances. There are some children that kill and will always continue to kill – born serial killers. Others won't. How can we tell? There was a notorious case in England many years ago of an 8 year old girl, Mary Bell, being sentenced to prison for cold-bloodedly strangling and beating two young toddlers to death, then tormenting their parents about the deaths. She was in prison until she was in her twenties and has been totally rehabilitated and is a parent herself now. She has stayed out of trouble and is very respectable. It all depends on the individual.

    August 18, 2011 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Ron

    I JUST

    August 18, 2011 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Ron

    i just want one dollar for every stupid liberal idea

    August 18, 2011 at 2:50 pm | Report abuse |
  8. AH

    Keep them locked up and throw away the key

    August 18, 2011 at 2:50 pm | Report abuse |
  9. IBON4IT

    Research has PROVEN that kid's brains are not developed until they are adults. They are not fully formed. Why should they pay for life what was done by, literally, another person? Besides, unless you're a complete psycho, the state tends to lock up WAY too many people for life that don't deserve that. if you don't believe me, do your own research and see for yourself.

    August 18, 2011 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
  10. MsK

    In my humble opinion, when a child commits a crime that elevates the child to the status of adults then the child pays an adult consequence. This is basic, for every action there is a reaction. Children need to be taught the difference between right and wrong and parents need to be aware of where their children are and what their children are doing at all times. It is impossible to parent your child AND be your child's friend at the same time. We need to parent our children, set boundaries, tell them no. It amazes me how many people allow the streets to raise their children, give them no discipline, no education, fight anyone who tries to intercede and dispense some discipline and then when the child gets in trouble cries for help. I am by no means a great supported or the justice system because it is flawed but it is unfair to allow children to commit adult crimes and not pay adult penalties. One reason gangs began using kids is because of the lighter sentences they faced. People should not be afraid of children but they are beyond control, and in the news everyday for killing someone, robbing someone, or planning to kill someone. How do you propose to fix that?

    August 18, 2011 at 2:58 pm | Report abuse |
  11. David ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    Hey, will you guys do me a favor and visit HelpFaye.ORG a friend of mine is fighting for her life.... Thank you..

    August 18, 2011 at 2:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • guest

      don't believe this guy. he's a spam scammer. there is no Faye who needs money to save her life. go to

      August 18, 2011 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • zorro

      I went to Snopes. They do not list Faye in any capacity. You're on your own figuring out how legitimate this is.

      August 18, 2011 at 3:14 pm | Report abuse |
  12. guest

    the heart of the matter is whether we use prison to protect the public from dangerous people or whether we use prison to exact vengeance. the truth is that most americans believe firmly in vengeance. if we reviewed the development of these kids, we would be forced to do some soul searching and we would often see that these criminals were themselves victims of brutality and ignorance, turning into who they became. we might have to look at them as human beings. there is no room in america for repentance, change or forgiveness, very funny in a country full of people claiming to be devout "christians".

    August 18, 2011 at 3:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • MsK

      There is definitely some logic missing in your response. How can you exact revenge on someone who has not done anything to you? I am trying to understand, but really the people who serve on the jury, the police, the lawyers, how are they service to exact revenge. I would hope that if something happened to you, they did all they could to find out who did it and make the person give back what they have taken unlawfully. Being a Christian in no way means that you should not be punished for what you have done. There are many instances in the bible where people were punished for disobedience. Now, there are some people who seek revenge, wanting to see the person die. Needing to be the last person the person sees, forsaking even an entire family to do this;however, I think that you are a little broad in your strokes about "most people in the US"

      August 18, 2011 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Andrey

    Old enough to pull the trigger? Old enough to pay the price!

    Brain development issues or not, the vast majority of the population makes it through teen years without killing anyone. So, you can't chalk up a murder to someone just being too immature.

    August 18, 2011 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Cindy

    While I can imagine some people would feel some sort or sympathy for these young people, it is likely the victim's family does not. It would also be wrong to make the victim's families relive the pain they went through. We are all only dealt one life. For the same reasons that young mothers have children it was their choice and they stick by their decisions by choosing to raise their child, abort or give for adoption. These other young people had the choice to do the right thing. They chose to do the wrong thing and at that time it was worth giving up their life for. We should respect these young peoples choice to give up their life for the crime they committed.

    August 18, 2011 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • guest

      are there 2 Cindys here or one schitzophrenic?
      to answer Cindy #1; not all victims' families want to exact vengeance, some even find healing in forgiveness and sympathy for the young person who committed the crime. the world is not as black and white as you make it out to be.
      look up the Amish response to the man who murdered innicent children in a school. they are the only people who have the right to claim that they are christians.

      August 18, 2011 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cindy

      You are right. Some want to forgive. But what about those that do not. That is not fair that they have to be questioned. I would feel terrible if someone murdered my child and then years later I be questioned if I felt like that person who committed the murder should be given another chance. It would reopen a closed book. And besides that, justice is supposed to be for the victim. Obviously the victims no longer have a say in the matter but that is why the laws exist. To advocate for the victim.

      August 18, 2011 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Cindy

    Do none of you have kids? Kids are not adults. They don't have the experience and reasoning an adult has. I am so glad someone is finally thinking that kids can be rehabilitated. Kids can be helped. What good does it do society to just lock one up and forget about them ever after? What a waste of potential.

    August 18, 2011 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
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