California Legislature Turns Its Back on Juvenile Defendents


This week the California State Legislature defeated a bill meant to allow the possibility of parole for some juvenile defendants who had previously been sentenced to life in prison. The bill stalled with a final vote of 36-36-8. Given the close vote, the bill’s sponsor Congressman Leland Yee (D) is likely to reintroduce it before the September 9th recess. This bill would have brought California in line with the rest of the world, where no other country sentences children to life in prison without parole.

SB 9 was intended to give  prisoners who had committed murder as minors the possibility for a second chance at life, provided they met certain conditions. The San Francisco Chronicle reports: “Under SB9, an offender who has been in prison for at least 15 years, has worked toward rehabilitation and can prove they are remorseful could ask the court to reduce their sentence. If the court agrees, the inmate would receive a new sentence of 25-years to life in prison.”

Given the conservative terms of the bill, it is startling that it failed to pass. There is a long history of psychological research that shows that teenagers do not have fully formed abilities to weigh risk and morality. Elizabeth Calvin of Human Rights Watch said, “Teenagers are still developing.  No one – not a judge, a psychologist, or a doctor – can look at a sixteen 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.”

This bill would have been especially important because almost half of the children were who convicted to spend their entire lives in prison were not even murderers. Even when children acted in concert with adults, the children (who have less developed senses of right and wrong) more often than not received harsher sentences than adults. If judges and juries give adults second chances, it only makes sense that they would extend that courtesy to children.

One would think that in a state like California, where the budget is perennially broken, would try to avoid the $2.5 million that imprisoning each juvenile offender costs the state. With pressure on the state from the US Supreme Court to reduce the prison population, it only would have made sense for the legislature to have taken this opportunity. On second thought, as a California native I can say this is no surprise at all.

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Photo from photocapy via flickr.

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Patricia H.
Patricia H.3 years ago

The more prisoners the more money, no matter what the age.

Rita White
Rita White4 years ago

I think the bill should have passed. That would give each case a chance to be reviewed individually.

colleen p.
colleen p.4 years ago

if a 30 year old deserves to be "thrown in a jail cell with bubba" for raping and murdering a toddler, why should't a 14 year old? because they are 10 years away from a 4 year old? somtimes it happens.

Grace Adams
Grace Adams4 years ago

$2.5 million per year to keep one juvenile offender locked up. Seems an extreme waste of resources. Juvenile convicts should be kept separate from adult prisoners, required to finish the equivalent of high school first and then at least kept busy in a work-release program. Many employers would be happier with a work-release prisoner delivered to the work site daily and kept sober and clean than with a working class person living free and maybe not staying clean and sober.

colleen p.
colleen p.4 years ago

throw bullies in jail. execute hunters but set murders free. peh. I guess a 14 year old dosen't know much about anything, and thus cannot murder. Like when a cocker spainal dog kills a baby.

so, a 16 year old who kills someone may shape up and be different at 30, but a 10 year old who lights dogs on fire for fun will be a murderer "soon".

people are to confusing. no wonder people drown them-self in media fantasy.

Susan S.
Susan S.4 years ago

@Mitzie, Hard to prove. Easier to recognize.

Jeanie Bence
Jeanie Bence4 years ago

i believe it depends on the juvinile, the circumstances and the crime itself, i mean if a kid murdered his stepdad for constantly beating his mom=selfdefence=let him go. if a kid killed the person that sexually assulted them for any length of time again...let em go. but if solike thatme kid went out and killed for nor real good reason i say throw away the key becouse you cant fix some one that can take a life just

Mitzie W.
Mitzie W.4 years ago

How does one prove remorse?

Lilithe Magdalene

I am shocked that this did not pass in California.

Susan S.
Susan S.4 years ago

Many of the 295 young people serving LWOP in California for crimes committed before they were 18, were not the actual murderer. Often the murderer was an adult who got a lesser sentence or wasn't even tried. SB 9 would not be available to the youth who murdered on his or her own. There are rigorous requirements to even be eligible to be re sentenced to 25 years to life. Even that determinant sentence would not guarantee they would ever be released.

The United States is the ONLY country in the world that sentences children to life without parole. We shouldn't be doing it at all. This legislation is the least we can do to give them a chance. PLEASE! This will be voted on again this week. If you are a California voter, please tell your state assembly person to vote FOR SB 9.