Marian Wright Edelman, President and Founder of the Children's Defense Fund, spoke out in support of Senate Bill 9, the Fair Sentencing for Youth Act to reform California's sentencing practices for young people. Governor Brown has until September 30 to sign or veto Senate Bill 9. This legislation would provide an opportunity for resentencing to youth sentenced to life in prison who have served a considerable amount of their sentence and who have met rigorous rehabilitation criteria.
"California has the opportunity to recognize what every country in the world recognizes: Sentencing a juvenile to die in prison without the possibility of parole is wrong and inhumane," said Edelman. "Young people have a great capacity for change and growth, so it is unfair to make a final judgment even for children who commit the most serious crimes and give them no hope of demonstrating reform or achieving release."
Approximately 300 youth have been sentenced to die in California's prisons for crimes committed when they were teenagers. According to Human Rights Watch estimates, a majority of these young people (59 percent) were first time offenders, and almost half (45 percent) were convicted of murder but were not the ones who actually committed the murder. Despite these facts, currently there is no opportunity for them to ever be considered for parole, even if they have completely turned their lives around and become responsible adults. The United States is the only country in the world to sentence youth to life in prison with no opportunity for parole.
"Too many children, especially those of color, find themselves in the pipeline to prison, born into poverty and failing schools and dangerous circumstances they can neither escape nor successfully navigate," Edelman continued. "Senate Bill 9 provides the possibility of parole for young people who have shown they deserve a second chance and the opportunity to become productive members of our communities."
Senate Bill 9 recognizes that all young people have the capacity to change for the better and the fact that the adolescent brain is not fully formed until early adulthood. Neuroscience research confirms what many parents and teachers have long known: brain development and maturation is a process that continues through adolescence and into early adulthood. Edelman added, "Science tells us juvenile brains will change and mature. Our hearts tell us children deserve the chance to grow up and give back."