By a 38-36 vote Monday night, the Assembly killed the Fair Sentencing for Youth Act authored by state Sen. Leland Yee (D- San Francisco), refusing to lead California out of the Dark Ages by banning sentences of life without the possibility of parole for juveniles. No other country sentences children to prison in this manner, and it is appalling, but not unexpected, that the Assembly could not muster enough political will to enact a law that in every way is beneficial to the public. Yee's arguments — that science has shown that adolescent brains are not fully developed and therefore that adult sentences are inappropriate for teens; that children are capable of reform; that a large minority of children sentenced to life without parole in California killed no one but were participating in another crime, such as a robbery, when an accomplice committed a murder — fell on deaf ears. Reason was no match for the intense lobbying of victims' rights groups and the cowardice of 38 lawmakers.
As the voting began, Yee's office believed it had locked up the needed 41 votes, but supporters fell away at the last minute. At least six legislators who began the hourlong voting session in favor of SB 399 ultimately changed their position and abstained or voted no: Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia), Charles Calderon (D-Montebello), Wilmer Amina Carter (D-Rialto), V. Manuel Perez (D-Coachella), Mary Salas (D-Chula Vista) and Wesley Chesbro (D-Arcata).