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Senate Bill 399 is the California Fair Sentencing for Youth Act introduced by Senator Leland Yee. Current laws allow youth as young as 14 to be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole (LWOP). The United States and Somalia are the only countries that allow children under the age of 18 to serve this harsh sentence; a sentence that provides no chance of rehabilitation and is a one-way ticket to death inside prison walls. SB 399 allows youths sentenced to LWOP the chance to contest their sentence after serving a significant portion. This allows youth’s sentence reduction to 25 years to life. CJCJ supports this bill and urges legislators to support this bill for the following reasons:

1. SB 399 holds youth accountable, but also provides a chance for young offenders to prove they have changed. Our laws should recognize that young people are especially capable of redemption, and require these offenders to work towards rehabilitation.

2. SB 399 is fiscally wise legislation. Every youth life-without-parole case costs the state around $40,000 per year of incarceration. For someone sentenced to life in prison at age 14, 15, 16 or 17 years old, that means decades of increasing incarceration costs for our state. By focusing our resources on the cases that are a threat to public safety, SB 399 would save millions of dollars for California.

3. SB 399 holds youth offenders responsible for their actions. The bill requires the offender to prove that he or she has chosen a different path in life and is worthy of parole consideration. It creates a strong system of checks and balances, as well: not only will an offender have to prove rehabilitation to a judge, but he or she will still face a parole board. 

CJCJ’s Executive Director Daniel Macallair’s, MPA, article U.S. among harshest for sentencing children” was featured in the San Francisco Chronicle in 2008. Macallair provides a brief background on the United State’s stance on LWOP for youth and the adaptation of LWOP for youth in California. To read the full article, please click on the title above.

CJCJ urges any stakeholders involved with SB 399 to support this crucial legislation.

Click for CJCJ’s advocacy letter in support of SB 399.

~Tamra Otten, CJCJ staff