On September 16, 2013, Governor Jerry Brown signed S.B. 260 — historic sentencing review legislation. It applies to more than 6,000 youth who were under the age of 18 at the time of their crime, tried as an adult, and sentenced to an adult prison sentence in California. The legislation was introduced by Senator Loni Hancock and co-sponsored by Human Rights Watch, Youth Law Center, the Friends Committee on Legislation of California, and the Post-Conviction Justice Project of the University of Southern California.
Under the law, after they serve a substantial part of their prison sentence, youth will be eligible for a review process that gives them an opportunity to demonstrate maturation and rehabilitation. Depending on their commitment offense, they may be eligible for such review after serving 15, 20 or 25 years in prison. In reviewing suitability for parole, The Parole Board must give great weight to the diminished culpability of juvenile as compared to adults, the hallmark features of youth, and any subsequent growth and increased maturity after the offense. However, if the proper showing or maturity and rehabilitation is not made, the Board can decide not to release the young person. Regulations will be developed to implement the law.
The legislation fills a void that occurred after several United States Supreme Court and California Supreme Court cases called for states to provide a “meaningful opportunity for release” to youth who received extremely long sentences or life without the possibility of parole. Those cases recognized that youth are very different in their teenage years from how they will be when they are fully mature. The legislation specifically notes that youthfulness both lessens a juveniles’ culpability and enhances the prospect that as a youth matures, he or she may become a contributing member of society. This law gives youth a chance to show that they deserve a second chance. In a separate action, the Governor noted that this legislation would also help to alleviate prison crowding.