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Gov. Jerry Brown Gives Juvenile Offenders An Earlier Chance At Parole

Ben Kraus |
September 18, 2013 | 7:45 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a new bill Monday that gives juveniles an opportunity to be granted parole as early as 15 years into their sentence.

The Youthful Offender Parole Hearing bill — co-sponsored by prisoner rights advocacy groups including USC Law’s Post-Conviction Justice Project and Human Rights Watch — applies to offenders who were tried and sentenced as adults before turning 18. The bill also requires the Board of Parole Hearings to review cases and assess whether an earlier release is justified.

There are over 6,500 inmates in state prisons who were prosecuted as adults, though they were minors when they committed their crimes, said Gilien Silsby, director of media relations for the USC Gould School of Law.

While some might point to overcrowding in California's prisons as a factor for Brown's decision, advocates said the bill had more to do with inmate rights.

SEE ALSO: State Assembly Passes Overcrowded Jail Plan

Heidi Rummel, co-director of the Post-Conviction Justice Project, said it became easier to try minors as adults in recent years, leading to what she said were improper prosecutions.

And being tried as an adult is unfair to youths because of natural mental hindrances too, she said.

“Neuroscience has proved that the adolescent brain is less developed,” Rummel said. “And teenagers are less able to understand and foresee the consequences for their actions.” 

In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down laws in 28 states that mandated life sentences without parole for murderers, including those below the age of 18. The court also ruled “that mandatory life without parole for those under age of 19 at the time of their crime violates the 8th Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishments,” according to the Los Angeles Times. 

But last year’s decision was ambiguous as to whether it would apply to those who had previously committed certain crimes.

Rummel said if juveniles learn their lesson, they should be given a second chance instead of having to stay in an adult prison possibly for the remainder of their life.

“Those who have changed need to be given the opportunity for relief,” she said.

Reach Staff Reporter Ben Kraus here.



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