Governor okays early parole hearings for juvenile offenders

Gov. Brown has signed into a law a measure allowing prison inmates who were minors at the time they committed their crimes to apply for resentencing and early release at least 15 years into their sentence.

The bill SB 260 was authored by Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, the chair of the Senate Public Safety Committee. Brown signed the bill Monday evening. For a detailed description of the issue, click here. 

“We think the bill holds young people to a very, very stringent standard,” Hancock said earlier. “But it does also take into consideration what psychology is telling us now — that the juvenile brain is simply not formed in certain ways, and with maturity people will change substantially.”

The bill allows a person who was a minor at the time of committing a crime to petition for a resentencing after serving at least 15 to 25 years and meeting certain criteria.

Last year, a bill authored by Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, was signed into law, allowing youth offenders serving life in prison without the possibility of parole to apply for a lesser sentence.

Hancock’s legislation goes beyond that to potentially impact not only those serving life sentences, but also those inmates who committed their crimes as minors but then wound up getting prosecuted as adults.

According to Hancock’s office, her legislation takes into account the differences in culpability between adults and youthful offenders, an issue that has been examined in state and federal courts.

The Supreme Court last year struck down mandatory sentencing of 14-year-olds to life in prison without the possibility of parole, citing it a violation of the Eighth Amendment and constituting cruel and unusual punishment.

Under Hancock’s plan, offenders would still serve a significant amount of time before being considered for parole. After six years of incarceration, they would be able to meet with a prison official for a progress report on their eligibility for parole — how they’re doing, what their chances are and what more they need to do.

“If they have an opportunity to live some part of their life outside of prison, it’s a very strong, positive motivator,” Sen. Hancock said.

If the inmate is facing a determinate sentence, they must serve 15 years before being eligible for a youth offender parole hearing. This goes up to 20 years if it’s an indeterminate sentence of less than 25 years to life, while those looking at 25 years or more to life must serve at least 25 years in state prison.

According to Hancock’s office, the bill was written in conjunction with guidance from the Board of Parole Hearings, which would be required under the law to meet with inmates entitled to have their parole suitability considered by July 2015.

Over 6,500 prison inmates are currently serving time for crimes they committed as minors and were prosecuted for as adults.

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