Governor Brown can end juvenile life without parole in California
Governor Brown has an historic opportunity sitting on his desk. For the first time four years, legislation sponsored by Senator Leland Yee (San Francisco) to eliminate the practice known as Juvenile Life Without Parole (JLWOP) has passed both Senate and Assembly floor votes. The legislation, Senate Bill 9 (SB 9)
has arrived on the Governor's desk and is awaiting his signature. SB 9 would end the policy some have called "a living death sentence" whereby youth felons are sentenced to life in prison under California Penal Code §190.5 without having the opportunity for parole consideration.
Supporters of SB 9 (Yee) from the Fair Sentencing for Youth
campaign describe the legislation as, "a modest bill" It provides for review of youth offender cases only after the individual has served a substantial amount of time in prison (at least 25 years). The campaign notes the following about the state's current JLWOP practices:
"¢ Life sentences ignore that young people have a unique ability to change
"¢ Evidence shows that life sentences for youth don't effectively deter crime
"¢ Life sentences for youth are used unfairly, disproportionately affecting youth of color as much as 18 times the rate of Caucasian youth.
"¢ Life sentences provide no real chance for rehabilitation -- programs and services are very limited for JLWOP cases.
"¢ Recent polling shows that 81% of the public agrees: Youth should not spend the rest of their lives in prison
Furthermore, just a week ago the California Supreme Court ruled in People v. Caballero
that the practice of sentencing a juvenile to life in prison without parole is "cruel and unusual punishment". Sue Burrell, staff attorney with the Youth Law Center, stated,
"... juveniles tried as adults may no longer receive "de facto" life sentences -- that is, sentences that are so long they exceed the young person's life expectancy. Courts must give them a sentence that provides them with a meaningful opportunity to demonstrate maturity and rehabilitation, with the possibility of release."
The CJCJ has been strongly in support of ending California's Juvenile LWOP policies since Senators Leland Yee and Gloria Romero first proposed legislation four years ago. On January 20, 2008, the San Francisco Chronicle published an op-ed
by CJCJ's Executive Director Dan Macallair calling for California to end juvenile life sentences without parole. Mr. Macallair described that of all the counties in the world, only the United States and Somalia had refused to sign the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child because of its ban on sentencing children to die in prison. He wrote in 2008,
"Many of these children committed their crimes when they were 14 or younger, but the laws make no exception and show no mercy. Judges have no discretion, and they must impose the mandatory sentence of life in prison without hope of release."
Juvenile life without parole is an abominable sentencing practice that is not supported by data to reduce juvenile crime or improve public safety. Governor Brown has an opportunity to align his administration with judicial precedent in California and nationwide, with the California Legislature, and public opinion by enacting SB 9. This is an opportunity for California to take one more step forward in cultivating a fair and equitable juvenile justice system for all youth in California.
Posted in Blog, Sentencing
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