Nebraska Considers Ban on Juv LWOP

Today’s top honors go to Nebraska State Senator Dwite Pedersen, who has introduced a bill in the state legislature to abolish life without parole sentences for juvenile offenders. (Secondary honors go to Doug Berman at Sentencing Law and Policy for tipping me off to the news.)

The proposal, introduced only weeks after 19-year-old Robert Hawkins killed eight people in an Omaha mall, follows on the heels of a landmark report on reforming the state’s juvenile justice program (background on the Hawkins shooting and the Voices for Children report here).

As the Omaha World-Herald explains, Pedersen’s bill would allow parole hearings after twenty-five years for offenders who have been convicted of murder committed before they turned 18; Nebraska juveniles convicted for murder before 16 could be considered for parole after twenty years. According to the World-Herald, Pedersen said his bill would offer young offenders “only the possibility–not a guarantee–of eventual release.”

He said society should not hold offenders forever accountable for something done during their teenage years.

“Most of us who work with youth recognize it’s a young and dumb age,” said the lawmaker, who works as a drug and alcohol counselor with inmates.

“The body may be mature, but the mind is not matured. People do rehabilitate and they do change. Those of us who work in corrections would like to have those adolescent lifers to have something to work for.”

Juvienation readers know that I count myself among those who fervently believe young lifers, in Nebraska and elsewhere, deserve a second chance. As I wrote in November, in a post about a similar bill put forward by Illinois State Representative Robert Molaro,

If you agree, as the Supreme Court did, that juveniles are different from adults in that they are still developing, and are therefore less culpable for their behavior and more capable of rehabilitation, then it follows that the death penalty for juveniles constitutes cruel and unusual punishment and must be abolished. And in the wake of Roper, of course, it follows that a sentence to death in prison is likewise unacceptable. There are currently at least 2,381 children serving such sentences in the United States; that is more than 99 percent of the juvenile offenders serving life without parole in the world.

The United States is by far the most egregious violator of what can fairly be described as a worldwide condemnation of life sentences for children, and it must be brought into compliance with evolving human rights standards. Whether a ban on this outmoded practice will come about by way of the courts or as the result of a wave of state legislation remains to be seen. That it is coming, I think, is beyond doubt.

To review the backlog of my posts on juvenile LWOP, click here.

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2 responses to “Nebraska Considers Ban on Juv LWOP

  1. HR4300 would effectively end juvenile life without parole across the United States, including Colorado. HR4300 is the most important legislation we could ever support.
    We need your help in 3 areas:

    1) Forward this email to your email lists. Since HR4300 will end all juvenile LWOP, it is relevant to each individual on your list.
    Ask your lists to write some version of the following:

    Members of The Committee:

    “We support HR4300, which would give children sentenced to die in prison a second chance.

    2) Forward this email to any politicians, activists, children’s organizations, celebrities that you know and ask them to write a short letter of support on behalf of HR4300 and The Pendulum Foundation’s efforts.

    3) E-mail your own personal letter of support or call the Judiciary Committee.

    Committee Email: http://judiciary. house. gov/contact. aspx (Entire Committee)

    One email will reach ALL members of the committee. Also “cc” Bobby Vassar, who is chief counsel.(bobby.vassar@mail.house.gov)

    Committee phone numbers: 202-225-3951 Majority/Democrats

    202-225-3926 Republicans

    Please “bcc” me on all correspondence so I’ll know how much public support is being generated.

    Thanks,

    Mary Ellen Johnson, Executive Director

    Below is the relevant language for HR4300.
    The entire bill is attached:

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

    (a) In General- 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 under 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. Not later than one year after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Attorney General shall issue guidelines and regulations to interpret and implement this section. 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 passage of this Act.

    (b) Definition- In this section, the term ..child offender who is under a life sentence’ means an individual who–

    (1) is convicted of an offense committed before the individual attained the age of 18; and

    (2) is sentenced to a term of natural life, or the functional equivalent in years, for that offense.

    (c) Applicability- This section applies to an individual who is sentenced on or after the date of the enactment of this Act as well as to an individual who had already been sentenced as of 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 State and Local Law Enforcement Assistance Programs, the Local Government Law Enforcement Block Grants program, 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 have not failed to be in compliance with this section.

  2. I strongly support the hr4300 bill. Everyone deserves a chance to prove themselves. how can you honestly sentence a CHILD to LWOP? At least give them LWP so the can prove they have rehabilated and learned from their actions. What about those who were at the wrong place at the wrong time and did NOTHING but witness and were too afraid to say anything fearing the same would happen to them or a family member. So Guilty by Association deserves LWOP?

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