Minnesota lawmakers this week abolished life imprisonment without parole for children. The reform is part of a public safety bill designed to transform the state’s approach to children accused of criminal offenses.
The bill not only retroactively eliminates juvenile life-without-parole sentences but also provides that children sentenced in adult court will be eligible for supervised release after at least 15 years in prison.
A newly created Supervised Release Board will be required to consider an expert assessment of the individual’s cognitive, emotional, and social maturity as well as relevant science on children’s neurological development.
Approximately 40 people will be eligible for review, University of Minnesota law professor Perry Moriearty told the Star Tribune.
The new law also creates a statewide Office of Restorative Practices to promote alternative, community-based approaches to hold children accountable, respond to victims’ needs, and address the issues underlying children’s behavior.
State grants will be provided to counties to develop local restorative justice initiatives, such as victim-offender dialogues and family group conferences, with input from parents, youths, school administrators, county prosecutors, and local law enforcement.
“Too often, the criminal legal system just focuses on punishment,” Justin Terrell, executive director of the Minnesota Justice Research Center, told the Star Tribune. “But expanding restorative outcomes and making it a priority for the system means that you’re addressing the harm that’s been caused and that people can actually move on from that harm — and that helps create safe communities.”
Gov. Tim Walz tweeted Tuesday that he plans to sign the legislation, which will make Minnesota the 28th state to abolish life-without-parole sentences for children.