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California: Repeal Law Jailing Children for Life

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  • LINDA TANT MILLER
    KRIS - PLEASE POST THIS TO OLI FOR ME HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH California: Repeal Law Jailing Children for Life Senate Should End ‘Life Without Parole’ for
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 14, 2008
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      KRIS - PLEASE POST THIS TO OLI FOR ME

      HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH

      California: Repeal Law Jailing Children for Life

      Senate Should End �Life Without Parole� for Juvenile Offenders

      (Sacramento, January 14, 2008) � California�s State Senate should
      pass a law this month to end the sentencing of children to prison for
      life with no possibility of parole, Human Rights Watch said today in
      a report on a practice outlawed in most of the world.

      In the 100-page report, �When I Die, They�ll Send Me Home: Youth
      Sentenced to Life without Parole in California,�Human Rights Watch
      found that in many cases where juveniles were prosecuted with an
      adult, the youth received heavier sentences than their adult
      codefendants. There are 227 inmates in California sentenced as
      juveniles to life in prison without parole.

      �Sentencing children to life without parole means they will die in
      prison, without the possibility of a second chance at life,� said
      Elizabeth Calvin, children�s rights advocate at Human Rights Watch
      and author of the report. �The public can be kept safe without
      locking children up forever for crimes committed when they were too
      young to vote, drink, or even drive.�

      For the report, Human Rights Watch interviewed 27 people sentenced to
      life without parole for crimes committed at ages 14 to 17. The report
      draws on records from the California Department of Corrections and
      Rehabilitation and analyzes findings from a Human Rights Watch survey
      of more than half of all youth serving the sentence.

      Despite popular belief to the contrary, Human Rights Watch found that
      life without parole is not reserved for children who commit the worst
      crimes or who show signs of being irredeemable criminals. Forty-five
      percent of California youth sentenced to life without parole for
      involvement in a murder did not actually kill the victim. Many were
      convicted of felony murder, or for aiding and abetting the murder,
      because they acted as lookouts or were participating in another
      felony when the murder took place.

      In nearly 70 percent of cases reported to Human Rights Watch in which
      the youth was not acting alone at least one codefendant was an adult.
      Survey responses reveal that in 56 percent of those cases, the adult
      received a lower sentence than the juvenile.

      Many survey respondents wrote heartfelt messages of remorse and
      apology to the families of their victims.

      Nationally, a 2005 Human Rights Watch study estimated that 59 percent
      of youth offenders serving life without parole in the United States
      were first-time offenders, without even a juvenile court matter on
      their records.

      Other states are considering reforms or have efforts underway to
      eliminate the sentence, including Florida, Illinois, Louisiana,
      Michigan, and Washington.

      International law prohibits the sentence for child offenders, and it
      is banned in nearly every other country in the world. Human Rights
      Watch believes only seven people outside the United States are
      serving life without parole for crimes committed as children.

      �The immaturity that leads children to commit crimes in the first
      place leaves them ill-prepared to navigate the criminal justice
      system, so they�re more likely than adults to receive the heaviest
      sentence,� Calvin said. �Some of those I interviewed didn�t
      understand the plea bargain system, for instance, so they�d reject a
      15-year sentence as being too long and then end up with life.�

      One interviewee, Dave U., who was 16 years old at the time of his
      crime, said he had several adult codefendants, one of whom was more
      than 10 years older than he:

      �I thought these older dudes would be my friends, but in the end,
      they said that I did it all.�

      Almost all of those interviewed said they did not fully understand
      the proceedings, their role in the process, and the consequences at
      stake. Jeff S., 16 at the time of his crime, told Human Rights Watch:

      �I didn�t even know I got LWOP [life without parole] until I talked
      to my lawyer after the hearing.�

      California has the worst record in the nation for racial disparity in
      the imposition of life without parole for juveniles. African-American
      youth are serving the sentence at a rate that is 18 times higher than
      the rate for white youth, and the rate for Hispanic youth is five
      times higher in California than for white youth.

      Despite there being no evidence that these youth are incapable of
      rehabilitation, many youth serving life without parole reported that
      their sentence precludes participation in rehabilitative programs in
      prison.

      The Juvenile Life Without Parole Reform Act (SB 999) is scheduled for
      a vote in the State Senate before January 31, 2008. If passed in the
      State Senate and House, the bill, written by Senator Leland Yee (D-
      San Francisco/San Mateo), would end the sentencing of juveniles to
      life without parole in California. Youth convicted of murder could
      still be sentenced to life in prison, but would have the opportunity
      for parole consideration after serving 25 years or more. The bill is
      supported by a diverse and sizable number of organizations,
      coalitions, and religious groups.

      �Even children convicted of crimes that cause terrible suffering can
      turn their lives around,� said Calvin. �California�s child offenders
      should be punished for their crimes, but they also deserve a chance
      to rehabilitate themselves. And California�s political leaders should
      help them by passing SB999.�

      Selected Testimonies

      �When they offered [my codefendant and me] 30 years � a flat 30
      years, not 30 to life � we were 17 [years old.] We didn�t understand.
      Thirty years? I was 17 and in 30 years I�d be 47. That seemed like
      forever to me. We were in juvie hall. We said no.�
      � Robert D.

      �The judge let me hug my mom and I cried and I couldn�t stop... I got
      life without and I didn�t kill anybody.�
      � Ray J., 17 at the time of his crime, described the moment when he
      heard the sentence.

      �As a kid, you don�t realize how fragile life is or how fragile it
      becomes.�
      � Billy G., 17 at the time of his crime.

      �My thoughts about what I had done to them � I�ve been thinking about
      the crime, my case, and the victims a lot... I didn�t realize my
      situation until I was about 24 or 25 years old. I started thinking
      about my whole life, what my whole family went through � their pain
      and suffering. I started waking up. I started regretting� Just me
      really accepting what I had done to them.�
      � Roland T., 33, described the process of beginning to understand
      what he had done, and his feelings of remorse.

      �[I was] scared to death. I was all of 5�6�, 130 pounds and they sent
      me to PBSP [Pelican Bay State Prison]. I tried to kill myself because
      I couldn�t stand what the voices in my head was saying��You�re gonna
      get raped.� �You won't ever see your family again.��
      � David C., 29, described being sent at age 18 to one of California�s
      highest-security prisons. David was 16 at the time of his crime.
      Related Material

      When I Die, They�ll Send Me Home
      Report, January 14, 2008

      Juvenile Life Without Parole
      Campaign Document

      United States
      Country Page



      From: http://hrw.org/english/docs/2008/01/14/usdom17726.htm<http://hrw.org/english/docs/2008/01/14/usdom17726.htm>

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