Corporate greed and private prisons (FCN, 05-01-2007)

LOS ANGELES ( – Youth advocates are placing hope for new beginnings in a proposed bill that would end life sentences without the possibility of parole for youth offenders.

State Senator Leland Yee (D) introduced the California Juvenile Life Without Parole Reform Act as part of a year of reform legislation. “Sen. Yee’s a child psychologist by profession and a lot of his bills have to deal with mental health and especially children.Because of brain development not being fully there, he thought that it was pretty insane for juveniles to be locked up and the state to throw away the key,” said Adam Keigwin, communications director for Sen. Yee.


The bill passed the Public Safety Commission on a partisan vote last year and supporters are working to gain bi-partisan support for a vote in the legislature. Mr. Keigwin said passage of the Yee bill would not necessarily mean lesser sentences for juvenile offenders.“Youth who commit crimes after the bill’s adoption would no longer be able to be sentenced to life without possibility of parole; however the approximate 200 youth currently serving that sentence would have to appeal for the new 25 to life sentence.The parole board would be the entity that would have to review that.I would say it’s pretty likely obviously in cases where the death penalty has been found to be unconstitutional,” Mr. Keigwin told The Final Call.

Sixteen-year-old Maritza Galvez, a youth organizer with the Youth Justice Coalition, believes that the bill would not just liberate youth, who are locked down for life, but give them an opportunity.

“All of our members are young people who have experienced the system, and we know from first hand that we need and are asking for a second chance.In California alone we have more than 230 young people serving life without parole; in the U.S., more than 2,200 and outside of the U.S. there are only 200 people life without parole so as you can see those stats show everything,” she said.

Ms. Galvez became involved with the system after her mother was wrongfully incarcerated for eight months following an immigration raid.In the end, a case of mistaken identity caused all of the charges to be dropped, however no restitution was paid to her mother or family.

According to Sen. Yee, 59 percent of the juveniles sentenced to life without parole within the U.S. are first-time offenders.Under current law, the sentence of life without parole also means no access to rehabilitative services for minors.“This punishment was created for the worst of criminals that have no possibility of reform–but this is not the humane way to handle children. While the crimes they committed caused undeniable suffering, these youth are often victims themselves,” Sen. Yee said in a recent statement.

Although the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights prohibits sentencing children to life without parole, California has the worst racial disparity for this sentence, Sen. Yee continued.“Black youth are given this sentence at 22 times the rate of White youth. Latino youth are sentenced to life without parole four times as often as White youth. As a society, we have learned a lot since the time we started using life without parole for children. We now know that this sentence provides no deterrent effect. While children who commit serious crimes should be held accountable, public safety can be protected without condemning a handful of youth to life in prison without even the possibility of rehabilitation and redemption,” he said.