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Life Without Parole: costly for juveniles and taxpayers

It is the responsibility of the state to "provide juveniles sentenced to life a 'meaningful opportunity for release,'" according to the 2010 Supreme Court ruling in Graham v. Florida.  In California, there is no such "meaningful opportunity" as of yet.  Youth, under the age of 18, committed for 1st degree murder in California can be sentenced to Life Without Parole (LWOP), without ever having the possibility to petition for their parole.  

Recognizing the fact that these can minors spend the rest of their life in prison for a crime they committed before they reached adulthood, San Francisco's State Senator Yee authored Senate Bill 9 (SB 9), also referred to as the "Fair Sentencing for Youth" Act.  SB 9 aims to grant youth sentenced to LWOP, the opportunity to petition for recall and re-sentencing, once they have served at least 10 years of their sentence.  Initially introduced by Senator Yee in December 2010, the bill finally passed in a 21-16 vote by the California Senate on June 1st.   It is now awaiting a July 5th vote in the Assembly Committee on Public Safety.

The Politics of SB 9

CJCJ, along with over 70 other community-based, faith-based, mental health, legal, higher education, and policy organizations officially support this bill.  Only 7 organizations, mostly law enforcement unions and associations, officially oppose this bill, however their influence remains strong. 

Supporters*

"¢ American Probation and Parole Association
"¢ American Psychiatric Association
"¢ California Council on Churches
"¢ California Mental Health Directors Association
"¢  Books Not Bars, Ella Baker Center

Opponents*

"¢ California District Attorneys Association
"¢ Crime Victims United of California
"¢ Los Angeles Police Protective League
"¢ Peace Officers Research Association of California
*non exhaustive lists

Both sides have contributed over $1.5 million to this bill.  See a graphic of the breakdown here.  CJCJ's current research on major California interest groups illustrates where and how this money influences criminal justice policy.  For example, one of the top campaign contributors for Senator Joel Anderson (R), an opponent of SB 9, is the Peace Officers Research Association of California (PORAC).  PORAC also openly opposes this bill and is among the top interest groups that have had the most prominent influence on crime control legislation in California in recent years. 

The need for SB 9

Many problems with the current law exist, including its disproportionate usage towards African American and Hispanic youth, this population's limited access to rehabilitative programming once incarcerated, evidence that LWOP sentences have little to no effect on violence reduction, in addition to the outstanding financial costs to California. 

According to a 2007 study conducted by UC Berkeley and Tulane University researchers, each new youth sentenced to LWOP would cost the state at least $2 to $2.5 million.  "To incarcerate just those who have already been sentenced until their deaths in prison will cost the state a total of approximately, half a billion including funds already spent and not adjusting for inflation." 

CJCJ believes the passage of SB 9 will not only alleviate injustices with the current law but also serve as a fiscally responsible policy to help shrink California's budget.

Browse the Fair Sentencing for Youth website to learn more and take action before the July 5th vote!

~Emily Luhrs

Sentencing Service Program Case Specialist

Keywords: Emily Luhrs, interest groups, LWOP, state policy

Posted in Blog, Sentencing, Juvenile Justice

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California Sentencing
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