A bill waiting for the Governor's signature would give youth in our state prisons serving sentences of life without parole an opportunity to earn a second chance.
Senate Bill 9, also called The Fair Sentencing for Youth Act, says inmates sentenced to life in prison without parole for crimes they committed as minors could petition for reconsideration of their sentence after serving 15 years of their life sentence.
The bill says a judge could reduce their sentence at that point if the inmates show evidence of remorse and are working toward becoming better citizens.
Many in law enforcement and other disciplines oppose the bill; others think it is the only way to allow young people the opportunity to show their ability to rehabilitate.
“SB 9 holds youth responsible for their actions, but also creates a strong system of checks and balances that provides a chance for young offenders to prove they have changed – both to a judge and to a parole board,” says George Gascón, San Francisco District Attorney and former San Francisco Police Chief.
Former San Mateo County Sheriff Don Horsley also supports the bill. “I support Senate Bill 9 because I believe that, in some cases, children who have committed crimes deserve a second chance,” says Horsley. “Children don't think of long-term consequences and their thinking can be more volatile at an early age. SB 9 makes it possible to assess individuals on a case-by-case basis.”
Costs to the state of incarcerating these young lifers are immense. Meanwhile, the state fights with its own budget shortfalls.
Experts suggest as much as $90 million per year is spent nationwide on youth who are serving so-called LWOP sentences. The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange reports a state Senate report "projected the annual cost of resentencing hearings would rise from $52,000 in fiscal year 2012 to as much as $90,000 two years later. The same report found the savings for the cost of incarceration are 'unknown,' but could potentially add up to $25,000 per inmate per year."
Republicans in Sacramento have fought the bill; not a single GOP member has voted for the bill.
Juvenile Justice Information Exchange reports that "State Sen. Joel Anderson (R-Alpine) wants the governor, a Democrat, to veto the bill. The southern California senator thinks the bill undermines two public referenda from the 1990s, when state voters approved life without parole sentences for some 16- and 17-year-olds convicted of murder.
If SB 9 is signed into law, Anderson wrote in a public letter, it 'will encourage criminal drug gangs to increase their recruitment of 16- and 17-year-olds to commit heinous murders, with the lure that they could get paroled if ever caught.'
Anderson ended by saying he supports 'the victims of violent crime — not their murderers.'"
What do you think? Should this bill be signed into law, giving young people who have committed serious crimes in their youth a second chance? Should this bill be looked at for its economic benefits, saving the state nearly $1 million per year? Will drug gangs increase their recruitment of younger members if it passes?
Tell us your thoughts in our comments. Then vote in our poll.