On Sunday, September 30, California Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 9 – the Fair Sentencing for Youth Act – which gives children sentenced to life imprisonment without parole a chance for parole.
Approximately 300 people have been sentenced to die in California prisons for crimes committed when they were teenagers. Senate Bill 9 gives some of them the opportunity to ask their sentencing judges to review their cases after they’ve served 15 years.
If an applicant shows remorse and demonstrates that he is working toward rehabilitation, the bill provides that he may submit a petition asking his judge to reconsider his sentence. The judge has discretion to decide whether to reduce the life-without-parole sentence to life with a possibility of parole after serving 25 years.
Supporters of SB 9 included child advocates, mental health experts, medical organizations, faith communities, and civil rights groups, as well as former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and law enforcement leaders including San Francisco’s police chief, sheriff, and district attorney.
San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón supportd the bill. “I recognize the ability of young people to reform their behavior and be rehabilitated as they mature,” he said. “SB 9 holds youth responsible for their actions. It creates a rigorous system of checks and balances, and provides a limited chance for young offenders to prove they have changed – both to a judge and to a parole board.”
The new California law follows on the heels of the United States Supreme Court’s decision in June abolishing mandatory life-without-parole sentences for children, and the California Supreme Court’s decision in August striking down life-equivalent sentences for children convicted of nonhomicide offenses.