Victim groups upset over new state parole law for juveniles


California's criminal justice system will begin to recognize that kids can't always make the right decisions when their brains are not fully developed.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law a measure that gives young offenders a second chance if they committed serious crimes under the age of 18 and were prosecuted as adults. Depending on their sentences, they could be eligible for a parole hearing during their 15th, 20th or 25th year of incarceration.

"If they reflect on what they did, if they feel remorse, if they take advantage of educational opportunities, they have a chance to live on the outside in the world again," said St. Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley.

It's a victory for the ACLU and Human Rights Watch. Attorney Ellen Eggers has visited young felons in prison; she says many know better now and deserve hope.

"They were kind of lost souls at the time. They didn't have adult supervision. They may have had parents that were out of the house, gone, in prison, on drugs and alcohol themselves," said Eggers.

An estimated 6,500 inmates are in state prisons right now who were minors when they were convicted as adults. Not all of them will be eligible for these new parole hearings. Sex offenses and three strikers are excluded from consideration.

Still, crime victims groups are worried about who qualifies. They're especially upset about a new provision that changes how parole decisions are made.

"The Parole Board has to take into account the age that the individual was, not the crime they committed, not their behavior in prison. Weight must be granted, must given to how old they were," said Christine Ward from the Crime Victims Action Alliance. She believes that would jeopardize public safety. "So really, people are going to be getting out left and right who are not ready to come back to our society."

Ward is looking at ways to start a referendum to overturn the law. She says there are already other legal avenues available to reduce prison terms.

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