As many of you may know, SB 9, went down to defeat in the California State Assembly last Thursday. SB 9 is the bill that would have given some juvenile lifers who qualify a vague chance to lower their sentences to 25-to-life, which even then wouldn’t guarantee they would ever be released. But it was, you might say, a chance at a chance.
The bill needed 41 Assembly votes to pass. The final tally was 36 to 36, with 8 spineless members abstaining altogether.
Over the weekend, I had several people ask me why I haven’t written about SB 9′s defeat. I told them that I was not at all sure I had anything to more say, that I was made weary by the idiocy, fear and illogic that continues to drive the discussion about the issue of juvenile life sentences. I mean really: this law is a no brainer.
For instance, during the floor discussion, one the Assembly members who opposed the bill got up and thundered “I stand with the victims!”
Yes, well, bully for you.
I wondered if the pontificating Assembly Member actually believed that those voting for SB 9 stood against the victims of murder and their families. If so, did he also believe that no other country in the world—save us— “stands with the victims,” since no other nation—save us— puts juveniles under the age of 18 in prison for life without the possibility of parole?
(Really, this sort of thing makes me believe that all state lawmakers should be tested for their ability to follow logical thought.)
I’ll try to post a list of who voted how before the end of the day.
In the meantime, Bryon Williams, in a column for the Oakland Tribune, had a take somewhat akin to mine. His headline was: ONCE AGAIN SANITY LOSES IN JUVENILE OFFENDER DEBATE
Here’s a clip:
Is it cruel and unusual punishment to sentence juveniles to life in prison without the possibility of parole and without the possibility of sentence review? That was the legislative question considered this week in Sacramento.
But after lawmakers in the Assembly deadlocked at 36 votes for and against a bill to create such a review process, it became clear that once again in California’s corrections system common sense has become the sworn enemy of public policy?
Senate Bill 9, sponsored by Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, was hardly an apologist for heinous crimes committed by youth. It merely would have given offenders sentenced as minors to life without parole a chance to request a parole hearing.
Beyond the cacophony, fear and emotion that drive so much of the state’s reactionary public policy, SB9 would have returned a small measure of sanity to the corrections system.
Supported by child advocates, mental-health professionals and civil-rights groups, the legislation would have provided an opportunity, after many years of incarceration, for review and resentencing for youths sentenced to life without parole.
It called for specific criteria and an intense, three-part review process that would result in the possibility of a lesser sentence for those offenders who have matured and proven themselves to have changed.
Moreover, it would have curbed the alarming trend of the state locking up minors and throwing away the key.
California is second only to Pennsylvania as the state with the most youth serving life sentences without the possibility of parole.
Under SB9, those sentenced to life without parole as minors could have petitioned a court to review his or her case after serving between 10 and 25 years in prison. If the offender met certain criteria, the court would review the case and decide, after listening to all sides, if a lower sentence should be imposed.
Not all petitioners would get a new sentencing hearing and those who did would have no guarantee of getting a lesser sentence. Even if resentenced, offenders must still face a parole board and must prove parole is merited.
The bill did not guarantee parole, only the opportunity to earn it.
State Senator Leland Yee plans to try to reintroduce the bill once more before in the next week or two.
NOTE: I’m flying to Hawaii on Wednesday for the wedding of my wonderful son. Blogging will be light until I leave, then WLA will go dark until after Labor Day (when I return from Hawaii after seeing my boy properly and joyfully married on the beach).
Photo by Bay Area News Group