This week, the US Supreme Court decided it was unconstitutional to sentence juveniles to life in prison without parole, if they did not commit homicide. The 6-3 decision has inspired California lawmakers to enact SB 399, a measure taking the court’s action one step further. The bill ensures that convicted juveniles, even those who commited crimes involving homicide, would be eligible for parole.
The High Court’s reasoning in this recent case was built off of arguments from Roper v. Simmons where developmental science supported the claim that children differ from adults in fundamental ways. The court now holds that criminal procedure laws which don’t take “defendants’ youthfulness into account at all would be flawed.”
Miriam Aroni Krinsky, former federal prosecutor, along with Ernie Pierce, retired San Diego police officer, and Jeanne Woodford, former warden of San Quentin State Prison and former director of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, are aligning themselves with the majority decision by allowing for a new classification of criminal.
These proponents of SB 399 collectively authored an article in the Los Angeles Times in which they explained: “Life without parole does not deter criminal behavior among youths. Most kids get caught up in crime without analyzing the consequences of their acts.” Indeed, research confirms that teenagers have weak impulse control and reasoning abilities, they say.
Relying on the fact that youths have a greater potential for behavorial reform than adults, the trio suggests that “in many cases, young people ‘age out’ of the type of behavior that leads to crime,” adding, “Our laws should recognize that they are capable of redemption and reform.”
Currently, there are about 250 life-sentenced inmates in California prisons who participated in crimes involving homicide as youths. The new measure would grant these prisoners a review of their cases to establish if they pose a risk to the community.
Only those who have served at least 25 years of their term would be eligible for parole.