August 30, 2011
Speaker John Pérez
P.O. Box 9422849
Sacramento, CA 94249-0046
Dear Speaker Pérez:
We write to you to express our full support for Senate Bill 9, the California Fair Sentencing for Youth Act, and we urge its passage by the California Assembly. Senate Bill 9 is broadly supported by the medical field, faith-based communities, criminologists and many victims’ families as the appropriate response to young people who commit serious crimes but are capable of reform. Last week’s Assembly action left the bill just one vote short of passage, demonstrating that the support for this important measure continues to strengthen. We urge all members of the California Assembly to support Senate Bill 9 when the measure is reconsidered.
Senate Bill 9 is a modest proposal: If enacted, children 17-years-old and younger who were sentenced to life imprisonment without the opportunity for parole (JLWOP) may petition the court for a resentencing hearing after 15 years in prison. If approved for such a hearing, youth could receive a parole hearing only after having served 25 years in prison. This measured approach requires offenders to be in prison for a quarter of a century before possible release. Indeed, those seeking a modification of their life sentence would need to demonstrate substantial rehabilitation and remorse before they could be eligible for release.
The support of the Assembly in the passage of Senate Bill 9 would demonstrate that California is a leader among states in adopting rational sentencing policy. In recent years, tough on crime states like Texas and Colorado eliminated juvenile life without parole as a sentencing option. Lawmakers’ support of this measured approach will be closely assessed by constituencies interested in rational crime control policy.
Every other nation in the world has rejected juvenile life without parole sentences because they recognize the basic truth that juveniles are fundamentally different from adults. Their brains are less developed and they are less able to control their impulses. Their youth also affords them a greater ability to be rehabilitated if given the chance.
All eyes are now on California to address the excessive sentences and policies that have contributed to its dangerous levels of prison overcrowding. Despite rhetoric to the contrary, the size of California’s juvenile lifer population is substantial, meaning that this sentence is not reserved for the worst of the worst. Senate Bill 9 moves the state in the right direction for youth, families, communities, and public safety.
ACLU of Northern California
A New PATH (Parents for Addiction Treatment & Healing)
All of Us or None
Bay Area Campaign to End the Death Penalty
California Coalition for Women Prisoners
California Prison Moratorium Project
Californians United for a Responsible Budget
Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth
Children’s Defense Fund
Congregation of the Humility of Mary
Ella Baker Center for Human Rights
Fair Chance Project
Families to Amend California’s Three Strikes
Friends Committee on Legislation California
Human Rights Watch
Inmate Family Council at CIW
Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace
Islamic Shura Council of Southern California
Legal Services for Prisoners with Children
National African American Drug Policy Coalition, Inc.
National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
National Council of La Raza
National Juvenile Justice Network
Progressive Christians Uniting
Sentencing and Justice Reform Advocates
Southern California Pax Christi
The Sentencing Project
United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society
W. Haywood Burns Institute
cc: Members of California Assembly