A bill reconsidering life sentences without parole for children — which had drawn the support of child advocates, mental-health professionals, civil-rights groups and San Francisco’s district attorney — failed in the state Legislature Thursday.
About 290 Californians are serving such sentences received as juveniles. Nearly half were convicted for aiding and abetting a murder or committing another crime that resulted in one, according to the office of state Sen. Leland Yee, the bill’s sponsor.
Yee’s legislation would have let juveniles who received such sentences petition for re-sentencing after 15 years behind bars. If they could show they were remorseful and working toward rehabilitation, a court could consider reducing their sentence to 25 years to life.
Yee spokesman Adam Keigwin said nowhere else in the world — even Texas — has life without parole for minors.
“It’s mind-boggling,” he said. “We’re supposed to be a progressive state, and here we’ve sentenced almost 300 kids to die in prison.”
The effort by Yee, a child psychologist, stalled in a 36-36 vote. The Assembly will reconsider the bill in the next few weeks.
District Attorney George Gascón said the bill “holds youth responsible for their actions,” and also “provides a limited chance for young offenders to prove they have changed.”
Public Defender Jeff Adachi also supported the bill.
“It’s a first step to reforming laws that are punitive,” he said. “The purpose of the juvenile system is to rehabilitate, not to punish.”
However, Bill Fazio, a former prosecutor also running for district attorney, said, “I think practically this bill is going to have little, if any, effect in San Francisco.”
The legislation could impact the case of a 17-year-old boy charged in the 2010 shooting death of a German tourist. He and the other suspects are facing murder charges with gang allegations that make life without parole an option.