Gov. Jerry Brown has before him SB 9, an important but in the end quite modest bill that would modify life-without-parole sentences for most inmates who committed their crimes as juveniles. The bill would put California, at long last, in the company of most of the world's civilized societies by recognizing the fundamental difference between juveniles and adults and opening a small window of hope, late in life, for those who perpetrated violent and cruel acts in their youth.
The bill would convert life-without-parole sentences for most of those who committed their crimes before the age of 18 to what would be, in essence, indeterminate sentences subject to review by the sentencing court. But that doesn't mean these individuals would get off easy. The offender couldn't even ask for a review until he or she had served at least 15 years, and only if the hearing and then resentencing were granted would the inmate be eligible for release. If the first petition failed, the inmate could next ask for one after having served 20 years. Even those able to get a hearing could remain locked up for life.
Those provisions, by themselves, were the essence of an earlier version of the bill, which should have won passage; it still would have left California among the most stringent punishers of juvenile criminals. But in its final form the bill is even tougher. An inmate would have to prove that he or she acted in consort with an adult or have to fall into other special categories even to be able to apply for a less-than-life sentence. Those convicted of killing law enforcement officers and those convicted of torturing their victims would be ineligible.