California lawmakers have repeatedly missed opportunities to bring some fairness, rationality and humanity to juvenile sentencing. They get another chance this week, and they should take it. The Assembly should pass SB 9, a bill to give offenders sentenced as minors to life without parole a chance to request a parole hearing.
Assembly Democrats who have voted against earlier versions of this bill for fear of being labeled soft on crime should look at the facts. SB 9 would not automatically open prison doors for violent criminals. It would not eliminate life-without-parole sentences for any offender, adult or juvenile. It would merely give inmates serving life terms for crimes they committed before they turned 18 a limited opportunity to seek a 25-years-to-life sentence — and for the first time, a slim chance of parole before they die.
California currently has 295 people serving non-parolable sentences for crimes they committed in their youth. Most were involved in homicides, but about 45% of them never pulled the trigger; they were convicted because they acted as lookouts or were involved in a concurrent crime when the homicide took place, usually at the hands of an adult accomplice. Underscoring the barbarity of the no-parole sentences is the fact that the actual killer often serves a shorter sentence or at least is eligible for parole.
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