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PCJP Juvenile Justice Bills Become Law

USC Gould School of Law • October 12, 2017
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New bills signed by Gov. Brown mean second chances for youth in California
By Gilien Silsby
In a major victory for juvenile justice in California, two bills co-sponsored by USC Gould’s Post-Conviction Justice Project were signed into law this week by Gov. Jerry Brown.
Senate Bill 394 makes California the 20th state in the country to eliminate life-without-parole sentences for children and Assembly Bill 1308 extends the Youth Offender Parole Process to age 25.
“Eliminating life without parole for children reinforces California's commitment to second chances for our youth,” said Heidi Rummel, co-director of USC’s Post-Conviction Justice Project (PCJP). “We look forward to working with our clients who were sentenced to die in prison for crimes they committed as 16 and 17-year olds toward rehabilitation and release through the parole process.”
USC Gould PCJP client Elizabeth Lozano was 16 years old when she committed her offense resulting in a life without parole sentence.
Rummel and PCJP students have advocated for juvenile justice reform for years, most recently leading working groups and drafting legislative language for SB 394 and the Youth Offender Parole Process. Rummel provided expert testimony before both the Senate Public Safety and Assembly Public Safety committees.
“Our students learn through the experience of direct representation of youth offender clients serving extreme adult sentences and also broader advocacy for systemic change,” said Rummel. “Combining both perspectives develops the best advocacy and policy.”
USC Gould law student, Jacqueline Gil, is currently representing a juvenile offender sentenced to life at age 16. “My client was told he was going to die in prison,” Gil said.  “Time and time again our courts told him that he was incapable of rehabilitation.  Now, 22 years later, he has been given a chance to prove them wrong; to prove that he no longer suffers from the trauma and immaturity of his youth; and to prove that he poses no danger to society.”
Since 2008, PCJP has been involved in legislative efforts to create second chances for California youth sentenced to die in prison and direct representation of clients serving life without parole.  A major shift in California juvenile justice came in 2012 when a bill co-sponsored by PCJP, the Fair Sentencing for Youth Act, was signed into law by Gov. Brown.  The law created a review process for juveniles sentenced to life without parole by enabling youth offenders to petition the court to be resentenced to a life term with the possibility of parole.
In the past five years, PCJP students have represented 18 clients sentenced to juvenile life without parole.  Eight clients have been resentenced to a parole-eligible terms and four have been granted parole; six clients are pending a resentencing hearing; and the four clients’ cases are in the appellate courts.  More than 20 youth offender clients have been released through the Youth Offender Parole Process.
"We have taken on this issue because youth are different than adults, and they deserve to be treated differently in our criminal justice system,” said Rummel. “Courts and scientists, and now the California legislature and Gov. Brown, agree that youth are less culpable. Their brains are still developing. They are impulsive, vulnerable to peer pressure and often victims of difficult life circumstances.  But most importantly, they have a great capacity to grow and change.”
Find out more about USC Gould's PCJP.

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