Sunday, September 8, 2013

Youth Offenders in California Given a Second Chance

One September 6, 2013, the California Assembly approved a bill that would provide youth offenders a way out of cruel and unlawful prison sentences that they incurred as minors.  This bill, “Hancock,” passed by a vote of 51 to 21 and will now be sent to the Senate for concurrence.  Should the Senate approve the bill, a new protocol for reversing these unjust prison sentences would begin.  The new process would consider the age of the incarcerated child at the time of his or her hearing, as well as potential rehabilitation opportunities to put such offenders back on a road to societal worth.
What is perhaps most disconcerting about California’s current youth offender penile system is that thousands of youth offenders are serving life sentences for crimes that they committed when their brains were nowhere near full development.  Keeping this in mind, there is no reason that children should be tried as adults in cases that can lead to life sentences.  According to the senior children’s rights advocate at Human Rights Watch, Elizabeth Calvin, the long prison sentences assigned to youth offenders create “despair,” which definitely doesn’t help the offenders become productive citizens should they return to society.  All in all, it is both societally backwards and outright wrong to try youth offenders as adults and sentence them to lengthy prison terms for crimes that they committed with undeveloped brains.  This should serve as a wake up call to anyone who assumes that all United States citizens are protected by the Bill of Rights.  Clearly, these rights are merely privileges that can be given and taken at the mercy of a court.

- Zach Steinfeld

1 comment:

  1. Good to see California taking this important step. While I don't think juvenile offenders should go unpunished, I do think that we have to take in consideration that they are children and, in some ways, chemically incapable of making premeditated, well-thought out decisions. I believe it is our role as a society to protect children and one way of doing that is to recognize how childrens' brains form.