May 2009 • Vol. 29 No. 5 | An E-Publication of the Los Angeles County Bar Association

LACBA Trustees Support Fair Sentencing for Youth Act

The LACBA Board of Trustees voted unanimously to support Senate Bill 399, the Fair Sentencing for Youth Act, as recommended by LACBA’s Juvenile Courts Task Force as its April 22 board meeting.

Senate Bill 399 would provide for review of the life-without-parole sentence of a youth offender (someone younger than 18 at the time of the offense) after 10 years of incarceration. It creates specific criteria and an intense, three-part review process to determine whether those offenders have matured and proven themselves to have changed, resulting in the possibility of a lesser sentence. The lesser sentence would be 25-to-life, and only after serving 25 years in prison may an inmate ask for parole. There would be no guarantee of parole, only the opportunity to earn it.

In California, youths as young as 14 years old are sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The use of this sentence violates international law, including two treaties to which the United States is a party, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

The sentence is also at odds with emerging science on adolescent development. Recent scientific findings conclude that the adolescent brain is not fully formed until well into early adulthood and that young people do not have adult levels of judgment, impulse control, or ability to assess risks. Other research has demonstrated that the vast majority of youths “age out” of the type of behavior that leads to crime and are capable of rehabilitation.

SB 399 does not eliminate juvenile life-without-parole sentences, but it would hold youths accountable for their actions and provide an incentive for them to work toward rehabilitation.

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