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June 2, 2010

"Youthful offenders deserve a second chance"

The title of this post is the headline of this new commentary in the Los Angeles Times authored by Miriam Aroni Krinsky, Ernie Pierce and Jeanne Woodford. Here are excerpts:

One of us is a retired police officer who daily put his life on the line to catch criminals. Another is a former Department of Justice attorney who spent years prosecuting violent drug dealers and organized crime organizations.  The third, a former warden of San Quentin State Prison and director of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, spent her career ensuring that those convicted served out their sentences as required by law.

Collectively, we have put or kept a lot of people in prison.  Prison is where some people justly belong, many for long periods of time.  But it is exactly our experience in law enforcement that causes us to agree with the Supreme Court's recent decision to abolish the sentence of life without parole for teens in nonhomicide cases.

That decision, however, did not finish the reforms needed in juvenile sentencing.  There are thousands of lifers in the nation's prisons — about 250 in California alone — who as teenagers participated in crimes involving homicides.  They all deserve a second chance, and at least some of them may deserve to be released.

As the high court recently recognized, there are inherent differences between teenage and adult criminals.  A teen who commits a crime, even a terrible one such as murder, is not forever defined by that one act.  Indeed, in our work, we have witnessed dramatic transformations among young people in our correctional facilities and in our neighborhoods....

The Legislature is considering a bill, SB 399, that would allow those who prove they merit a second chance an opportunity to be considered for parole, but only after serving at least 25 years.

Clearly there are offenders who have committed heinous crimes and are unfit to be released regardless of the age they were when they committed their crime.  SB 399 would not allow these people to return to our communities.  Instead, it would allow for a thoughtful review to determine whether, years later, individuals sentenced as youths continue to pose a threat to the community.

We know that sentencing youngsters to a life in prison with no possibility for review of their sentence as they mature into adulthood isn't simply excessive; it is contrary to the interests of our state.

Life without parole does not deter criminal behavior among youths.  Most kids get caught up in crime without analyzing the consequences of their acts.  Indeed, research confirms that teenagers have weak impulse control and reasoning abilities.

Life without parole is also a very costly policy. In the case of young people, these sentences cost California about $2.5 million each.  And without SB 399, there is no way to revisit these sentences and account for the adult that teen has become.

It is time for California, and our nation as a whole, to take the Supreme Court's decision to its next logical step and join the rest of the world by revisiting inflexible life-without-parole sentences for young offenders.  Juvenile offenders are different; our laws and system of justice must acknowledge those differences.

June 2, 2010 at 12:53 PM | Permalink


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Los Angeles Times, a biased, left wing propaganda outlet.

Three government workers, with livelihoods, not partially dependent on maintaining high crime rates as with the lawyer, but totally dependent on the criminal for a livelihood. They do not want the criminal scared or doubtful about committing crime. They want him immune and relaxed.

The neighborhoods of expendable, dark skinned citizens is where these vicious predators would be loosed, not in any government worker neighborhood. Under Kelo, the homes of the neighbors of these gentlemen should be seized, and all loosed juveniles should be placed there.

Juvenile offenders are different. They are more intense, impulsive, stronger, sexed up, entitled, energetic, more readily intoxicated at the same doses as adults. Under no circumstances should any under age 50 be considered for release.

You have to love Prof. Berman. He is intentionally provocative with this left wing stuff. He is saying to the reader, surely with an impish smile, you are an idiot, a child, an idiot child, who will buy any stupid proposal. Prove you are not.

This blog is like an itch, half pain, half pleasure.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jun 2, 2010 1:47:40 PM

This decision doesn't seem terribly unreasonable. When a child commits a crime, it's impossible to know how they'll develop as an adult. Obviously, when a grown adult commits a heinous crime, you can probably bet that they're beyond rehabilitation.

But an adolescent, whose brain isn't fully developed, could probably be reformed under the right conditions. We should acknowledge this fact. And as long as the court doesn't go much further than this in restricting LWOP, a person who commits a crime as a minor, and proves to be irredeemable, can still be held indefinitely.

Posted by: SmithCommaJohn | Jun 2, 2010 3:24:04 PM

Where is the evidence the change in the brain slows down at age 18? That violent adolescent brains are less dangerous than violent adult brains. There are some changes around puberty, but they mature the brain and make it adult in almost every way.

People aged 60 are more mature than people aged 40. What about cutting the 40 year old criminal a break?

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jun 2, 2010 4:40:16 PM

How f'in arrogant is this idea that murderers "deserve" a second chance. It's one thing to make arguments about allocation of resources--quite another to talk about what kind of mercy a murderer deserves.

And I'd expect more from supposed penological experts:

"Life without parole does not deter criminal behavior among youths. Most kids get caught up in crime without analyzing the consequences of their acts. Indeed, research confirms that teenagers have weak impulse control and reasoning abilities."

This infantilization of teenagers is just plain silly. Yes, a 17 year old is more likely than a 25 year old to fly off the handle, but this idea that kids "get caught up in crime" is just preposterous. They know it's wrong. They choose to do it. Somehow when I was 17 I didn't have the desire to rape, rob or steal. And I certainly knew how terrible death was. Ask any 17 year old how they'd like their sibling to be murdered, and I suspect they'd know. And as for deterrence--well, that prisons don't deter all doesn't mean that they don't deter some.

These people ooze condescension. And they're not even that smart.

Posted by: federalist | Jun 2, 2010 8:37:23 PM

Wayne Henry Garrison--some poor boy got to find out, up close and personal, what an "adult that teen ha[d] become."

Posted by: federalist | Jun 2, 2010 9:23:39 PM

I guess there are no data coming about any changes in development around age 18. Where are the data showing that murder is a reflection of immaturity, something that one outgrows?

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jun 7, 2010 4:49:35 AM

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