Across the State, people attending religious services heard about how the major faith traditions teach that the young are special in the eyes of the Almighty, and how young people should be treated when they commit serious crimes. “This comes from our faith convictions,” said Jauvier Stauring, director of Faith Communities for Families and Children. “We should never ever give up on a child…[W]e should not look at them and declare that the worst thing they did as a child is how we’re going to label them for the rest of their lives.”
Archive for April, 2009
A state appellate court has voided a life without parole sentence for a 14-year-old from Orange County who was convicted of a kidnapping in which no one was injured. The 4th District Court of Appeal ruled that the sentence life without parole for such a youthful offender constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, finding that the sentence violated both the Eighth Amendmentto the U.S. Constitution and Article I of the California Constitution. “We … conclude his severe sentence is so freakishly rare as to constitute arbitrary and capricious punishment violating the Eighth Amendment,” Justice Richard Aronson wrote. Antonio still may never get out of prison, however, because his crime resulted in several consecutive life sentences.
Senate President Darrell Steinberg and former Senate Majority Leader Gloria Romero have announced that they will co-author SB399. They join author Senator Leland Yee, Ph.D., Assistant President pro Tempore of the Senate. Senator Steinberg is a long-time advocate for children’s rights, having worked for years to improve foster care for children and youth. Senator Gloria Romero, Senate Majority Leader from 2001 to 2008, is a leading legislative expert on reform of California’s prison system. Senator Romero will be a principal co-author. Their commitment indicates the growing support for ending life without parole for youth. “Life without parole means absolutely no opportunity for release,” said Senator Yee. “It also means minors are often left without access to programs and rehabilitative services while in prison. This sentence was created for the worst of criminals that have no possibility of reform and it is not a humane way to handle children. While the crimes they committed caused undeniable suffering, these youth offenders are not the worst of the worst.”
The California Catholic Conference chose passage of SB 399 as a top priority this year, and on April 28th over 700 Catholics from around the state came to Sacramento to meet with legislators and urge support for fair sentencing for youth. Steve Pehanich, CCC’s senior director for advocacy and education, noted the importance of having so many voters at the capital. “When people from their home districts come all the way to Sacramento to visit, [legislators] know it’s important,” said Pehanich. The CCC concludes that “young people — even those serving life sentences — have the capacity to change for the better. SB 399 would still allow juveniles to be sentenced to life in prison, but they would have the opportunity for parole consideration. If an offender had matured and proven him/herself to have changed, there would be the opportunity to earn parole. The Catholic approach leads us to encourage models of restorative justice that address crime in terms of the harm done to the victims and communities — not simply as a violation of the law.”
On April 28th at 6pm the University of Southern California will host a meeting focused on the use of life sentences for people under the age of 18 years old. Panelists, including Professor Heidi Rummel of the USC School of Law, Elizabeth Calvin of Human Rights Watch, and Efren Paredes, Jr. who is serving JLWOP (present by phone) will discuss several questions, including: Should juveniles be sentenced to life in prison? Are our youth incorrigible? Why is the U.S. the only nation in the world to not ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child? Location: USC Campus WPH102 Sponsored by M.E.Ch.A. de USC.
On April 22, the Board of Trustees of LACBA unanimously voted to support passage of SB 399. The vote came after input from prosecutors, defense attorneys, and civil practitioners. One District Attorney provided the perspective of someone who had prosecuted teenagers in adult criminal court. She spoke of her experience and concluded that LWOP for youth is an unjust and inappropriate sentence. Board members had studied materials in preparation for the meeting and participated in a presentation and discussion prior to the vote.
On a vote of 5 to 2, the Senate Public Safety Committee approved SB399 after hearing testimony in support from Human Rights Watch, the parent of a youth sentenced to life without parole, and the California Catholic Conference of Bishops. More than 75 others voiced their support for the bill with the committee.
Elizabeth Calvin of Human Rights Watch said that the time has come for change. “As a society we´ve learned a lot since the time we started using life without parole for children,” said Calvin. “We know now that this sentence provides no deterrent effect. While children who commit serious crimes should be held accountable, public safety can be protected without subjecting youth to the harshest prison sentence possible. This bill would punish youth but give them the opportunity to prove they have turned their lives around.”
The bill is now headed to the Senate Appropriations Committee.
SB399 will be heard before the Senate Public Safety Committee April 14th at 9:30 a.m. Come support fair sentencing for youth! The hearing will be held in room 4203 of the State Capitol Building in Sacramento.
Leland Yee, Assistant President pro Tempore of the California State Senate, introduced SB399 this session. “Children have a greater capacity for rehabilitation than adults,” said Senator Yee, who is also a child psychologist. “The neuroscience is clear; brain maturation continues well through adolescence and thus impulse control, planning, and critical thinking skills are still not yet fully developed. SB 399 reflects that science and provides the opportunity for compassion and rehabilitation that we should exercise with minors.”
President pro Tem of the California State Senate, Darrell Steinberg is a long-time advocate for children’s rights, having worked for years to improve foster care for children and youth. He joins bill author, Senator Leland Yee, Ph.D., Assistant President pro Tempore of the Senate, as an author of SB399. “Life without parole means absolutely no opportunity for release,” said Senator Yee. “It also means minors are often left without access to programs and rehabilitative services while in prison. This sentence was created for the worst of criminals that have no possibility of reform and it is not a humane way to handle children. While the crimes they committed caused undeniable suffering, these youth offenders are not the worst of the worst.”