Thank California for Ending Life-Without-Parole Youth Sentences

Target: California Governor Jerry Brown

Goal: Support Governor Brown’s decision to allow review of cases of youth sentenced to life in prison

California Governor Jerry Brown recently signed a new law on youth sentencing that will allow nearly 300 imprisoned young people in California the opportunity to ask courts to review their cases. Previously, these young offenders were confined to life in prison with no hope of parole.

Now, the cases of individuals under the age of 18 at the time of their crime can be reevaluated and possibly receive a new sentence allowing parole after serving 25 years in prison. Governor Brown’s decision deserves recognition for raising the bar for United States judicial treatment of youth offenders and for providing a model for other states to follow.

California, home to more than 10 percent of all juvenile life-without-parole cases in the country, has seen a varied assortment of support for the bill, ranging from faith communities to medical associations to child welfare groups. A key component of the law stresses the difference between adults and teens and children, focusing on the increased likelihood of change and development to be found in young offenders. Crimes committed at a young age are, as the U.S. Supreme Court noted, less likely to be proof of an “irretrievably depraved character,” and thus it falls to society to ensure that these young people are given the chance to change.

In addition, this new law goes a long way in rectifying California’s questionable past where youth offenders are concerned. Nearly 45 percent of young people serving life-without-parole for murder cases were not the actual killers, but were convicted for acting as lookouts or assisting in a robbery when a murder occurred. Almost 70 percent of these cases involved both a young person and an adult, and the adult received a lower sentence.

Perhaps most importantly of all, as a signatory of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the U.S. ignores its obligation to prohibit life-without-parole sentences for offenders under 18 and is the only country in the world where such sentences are allowed.

Thank Governor Brown for his groundbreaking decision and for standing up for the rights of youth offenders.


Dear Governor Jerry Brown,

Your recent decision to sign into law new legislation addressing life-without-parole for youth offenders is an admirable and important action. As a state riddled with a questionable past where conviction of youth offenders is concerned, it is particularly significant that California has stood up on behalf of the rights of young people. Your state and your decision will serve as an example to the rest of our country.

I thank you for your courageous action and for reminding the United States of its obligations as a signatory of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Please continue your good work on behalf of the youth offenders.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: Rob Shenk via Flickr

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