Law Offices of Jess C. Bedore III - Certified Specialist in Criminal Law
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Is reform finally working to help prisoners arrested as kids?

It was a landmark month for the state of California as it utilized new laws to release a man who was sentenced to life in prison without parole when he was just 16. He served 24 years before the decision was made, and he is now a free man.

The new laws in the state of California are designed to give a little more wiggle room to those who committed crimes when they were teenagers but were tried for their crimes as adults. This can result in incredible -- even permanent, as was in the case of the man released -- punishment for someone who is at an age where they are going to make dumb decisions. Even a teen who commits a crime has the capacity to change through his or her teenage years and up through his or her 20s.

In other words, there is a bit of nuance now for those who were tried as adults when they were just teenagers.

In California, people as young as 14 years of age can tried and sentenced as adults. One of the major problems with this system is that it is not a judge that deals with the teenager -- it is a prosecutor. Procedurally, little happens in these cases because the prosecutor rarely puts too much consideration into his or her decision. They simply don't have the time to make a nuanced, informed decision.

As a result, we got a lot of teens who were spending significant chunks of their adult lives in jail, and that wasn't doing anyone any good. Taxpayers were paying for these people to remain behind bars; the system itself was strained by the people in jail; and the incarcerated individuals were obviously losing the most out of everyone involved.

Hopefully these new laws will continue to be utilized appropriately, and we can cut back on our prison population while also rewarding those who have shown that their big mistake as a teenager doesn't define who they are as an adult.

Source: Sacramento Bee, "Reform laws that send too many youths to adult prisons," Elizabeth Calvin, April 19, 2015

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