Reducing penalties for youth offenders

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Youth Offenders Imprisoned in California

The California Assembly could vote as early as today on a bill that would offer lesser penalties for prisoners who were sentenced as teenagers to life without parole. California has about 300 inmates who were given life sentences for crimes they committed when they were younger than 18. Senate Bill 9 would give those offenders a chance to earn parole after they’ve spent at least 25 years in jail.

“They may have been involved in a serious crime when they were teenagers, but they can change,” said Elizabeth Calvin, a senior advocate with Human Rights Watch. More than half of these youth were first-time offenders, Calvin said, and this bill could allow rehabilitated felons a possibility to start over. “Teenagers are still developing,” Calvin said. “No one, not a judge, not a psychologist, can look at a teenager and predict who that person will be when they’re in their 40s.”

The bill failed by one vote short of passage in the Legislature last year. If it passes this time, it’d have to go to the governor for final signature. Read the Human Rights Watch report: “When I Die, They’ll Send Me Home: An Update”