PETITION IN SUPPORT OF HR2289 - ENDING JUVENILE LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE

The United States is the only nation on earth that sentences its children to life without parole (LWOP).  We have over 2500 children sentenced to die in prison, including some as young as 13.  Children are NOT adults.  All studies show that teen brains are not fully developed, and that they do not have the maturity to always make rational, reasoned decisions. The United States Supreme Court stated that children should not be held to the same level of culpability as adults.

HR2289 would give children sentenced to life the opportunity for parole once in 15 years.

We support HR2289.

HR 2289 IH

111th CONGRESS

1st Session

H. R. 2289

To establish a meaningful opportunity for parole or similar release for child offenders sentenced to life in prison, and for other purposes.

IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

May 6, 2009

Mr. SCOTT of Virginia (for himself and Mr. CONYERS) introduced the following bill; which was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary

A BILL

To establish a meaningful opportunity for parole or similar release for child offenders sentenced to life in prison, and for other purposes.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.

This Act may be cited as the ‘Juvenile Justice Accountability and Improvement Act of 2009’.

SEC. 2. FINDINGS.

Congress finds the following:

(1) Historically, courts in the United States have recognized the undeniable differences between adult and youth offenders.

(2) While writing for the majority in Roper v. Simmons (125 S. Ct. 1183), a recent Supreme Court decision abolishing use of the death penalty for juveniles, Justice Kennedy declared such differences to be ‘marked and well understood’.

(3) Notwithstanding such edicts, many youth are being sentenced in a manner that has typically been reserved for adults. These sentences include a term of imprisonment of life without the possibility of parole.

(4) The decision to sentence youthful offenders to life without parole is an issue of growing national concern.

(5) While there are no youth serving such sentences in the rest of the world, research indicates that there are over 2,500 youth offenders serving life without parole in the United States.

(6) The estimated rate at which the sentence of life without parole is imposed on children nationwide remains at least 3 times higher today than it was 15 years ago.

(7) The majority of youth sentenced to life without parole are first-time offenders.

(8) Sixteen percent of these individuals were age 15 or younger when they committed their crimes.

SEC. 3. ESTABLISHING A MEANINGFUL OPPORTUNITY FOR PAROLE FOR CHILD OFFENDERS.

(a) In General-

(1) REQUIREMENTS- For each fiscal year after the expiration of the period specified in subsection (d)(1), each State shall have in effect laws and policies under which each child offender who is serving a life sentence receives, not less than once during the first 15 years of incarceration, and not less than once every 3 years of incarceration thereafter, a meaningful opportunity for parole or other form of supervised release. This provision shall in no way be construed to limit the access of child offenders to other programs and appeals which they were rightly due prior to the enactment of this Act.

(2) REGULATIONS- Not later than 1 year after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Attorney General shall issue guidelines and regulations to interpret and implement this section.

(b) Definition- In this section and section 4, the term ‘child offender who is serving a life sentence’ means an individual who--

(1) is convicted of one or more offenses committed before the individual attained the age of 18; and

(2) is sentenced, for such an offense or offenses, to a term of imprisonment of life, or of any number of years exceeding 15 years, cumulatively.

(c) Applicability- This section shall apply to individuals sentenced before, on, or after the date of the enactment of this Act.

(d) Compliance and Consequences-

(1) COMPLIANCE DATE- Each State shall have not more than 3 years from the date of enactment of this Act to be in compliance with this section, except that the Attorney General may grant a 2-year extension to a State that is making a good faith effort to comply with this section.

(2) CONSEQUENCE OF NONCOMPLIANCE- For any fiscal year after the expiration of the period specified in paragraph (1), a State that fails to be in compliance with this section shall not receive 10 percent of the funds that would otherwise be allocated for that fiscal year to that State under subpart 1 of part E of title I of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 (42 U.S.C. 3750 et seq.), whether characterized as the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program or otherwise.

(3) REALLOCATION- Amounts not allocated under a program referred to in paragraph (2) to a State for failure to be in compliance with this section shall be reallocated under that program to States that are in compliance with this section.

SEC. 4. NOTICE TO VICTIMS.

Each State that has in effect laws and policies in accordance with the requirements of section 3 shall, not later than 1 year after the date of compliance with such section--

(1) provide notice to the public of such laws and policies, which shall include--

(A) a description of the opportunities for parole or supervised release available to child offenders who are serving a life sentence, and how those opportunities differ from the laws and policies in effect before compliance with section 3; and

(B) the name and contact information of the office, agency, or other entity that may be contacted for additional information about such laws and policies, including the application of such laws and policies to a child offender who is serving a life sentence, by a victim who was directly and proximately harmed as a result of an offense described in section 3(b) that was committed by such a child offender; and

(2) provide procedures whereby a victim who was directly and proximately harmed as a result of an offense described in section 3(b) that was committed by a child offender who is serving a life sentence may, upon request, receive information about the specific opportunities for parole or supervised release to be provided to such child offender in accordance with such laws and policies, including dates of parole or supervised release hearings and notice of decisions granting or denying parole or supervised release.

SEC. 5. ESTABLISHING A PARALLEL SYSTEM FOR CHILD OFFENDERS SERVING LIFE SENTENCES AT THE FEDERAL LEVEL.

Section 3624 of title 18, United States Code, is amended--

(1) in subsection (a) by striking ‘A prisoner’ and inserting ‘Except as otherwise provided by law, a prisoner’; and

(2) by adding at the end the following:

‘(g) Opportunity for Release for Child Offenders Serving a Life Sentence- Not later than 1 year after the date of the enactment of this subsection, the Attorney General shall establish and implement a system of opportunity for release that will apply to child offenders who are serving a life sentence (as defined in section 3 of the Juvenile Justice Accountability and Improvement Act of 2009) for Federal offenses. The system shall conform as nearly as practicable to the laws and policies required of a State under section 3(a) of such Act and shall include provision for the same or similar notice to victims as States are required to provide under section 4 of such Act. The system shall be in addition to any other method of release that might apply to such an offender.’.

SEC. 6. GRANTS TO IMPROVE LEGAL REPRESENTATION OF CHILDREN FACING OR SERVING LIFE IN PRISON.

(a) Grants Authorized- The Attorney General shall, subject to the availability of appropriations, award grants to States to improve the quality of legal representation of certain child defendants and child offenders by providing for competent legal representation for individuals who--

(1) are charged with committing an offense, before the individual attained the age of 18, that is subject to a sentence that may include a term of imprisonment of life, or the functional equivalent in years or more; or

(2) are convicted of an offense committed before the individual attained the age of 18, and are sentenced to a term of imprisonment of life, or the functional equivalent in years or more, for that offense, and who seek appellate or collateral relief, including review in the Supreme Court of the United States.

(b) Legal Representation- In this section, the term ‘legal representation’ means legal counsel and investigative, expert, and other services necessary for competent representation.

(c) Authorization of Appropriations- There are authorized to be appropriated to carry out this section such sums as may be necessary.



We the undersigned encourage each of you to closely review and support this Bill which requires states to enact laws and adopt policies to grant child offenders who are under a life sentence a meaningful opportunity for parole at least once during their first 15 years of incarceration and at least once every three years thereafter.  This law defines a child offender who is under a life sentence as an individual who is convicted of a criminal offense before attaining the age of 18 and sentenced to a term of natural life or its functional equivalent in years.

Honorable Members, in the United States children are prohibited from buying cigarettes, consuming alcohol, seeing certain movies unless in the presence of an adult, cannot serve on juries, cannot vote, cannot marry without parental consent, are not allowed to leave home and live alone, leave school, cannot make certain decisions relating to their medical treatment or education, cannot sign contracts, purchase firearms or be drafted in to military service.

They can, however, be sentenced to life in prison and its equivalent in years without the possibility of parole, a sentence reserved for those people in our society for whom there is considered to be no redemption.  Do you agree that children are beyond redemption?   Juvenile life without parole sentences ignore the very real scientific facts and social differences between children and adults, abandoning the concepts of redemption and second chances upon which this country was built.  Psychoanalytical studies have shown that children lack the capacity to both understand and control their actions, which reduces culpability.  The human brain does not reach its full capacity in the frontal cortex, the area of reasoning, until age 25.

The U. S. disproportionately sentences child offenders to LWOP.  With an estimated 2,500 child offenders serving the sentence, and 42 of the 50 states and the federal government permitting the sentence, the U.S. is home to over 99% of youth serving the sentence in the world.  10 states set no minimum age and 12 states set a minimum of 10-13 years of age and 16% who receive this sentence are indeed of this young age.  Of great concern are the tremendous racial disparities among the populations receiving the sentence.  Finally, it is your responsibility as our leadership to be acutely aware of the unthinkable fact  that adult prisons are  especially harsh on juveniles.  The suicide rate for juveniles in adult facilities is 8 times that of juveniles in detention facilities.

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