Capable of Change

(May 11) –Two bipartisan bills by Rep. Daniel Kagan based on the idea that it is inhumane to sentence children to almost inevitably die in prison advanced today.

The first bill, SB16-181, sets a new sentencing range for some of the 48 people who were mandatorily sentenced to life without parole as juveniles. The Senate voted this morning to concur with House changes and repassed the bill. It now heads to the governor’s desk.
“This measure deals with juveniles who were sentenced to life without parole—were sentenced to die in prison—because it was mandatory,” said Rep. Kagan, D-Cherry Hills Village. “This bill addresses the fact that those sentences, when imposed mandatorily, have been declared by the United States Supreme Court to be cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment.”

The Supreme Court also ruled that the decision is retroactive. This bill therefore takes necessary legislative action to provide for a new sentencing range: individuals who were sentenced to juvenile life without parole for first-degree murder will be automatically resentenced to serving 40 years to life minus earned time. In limited situations, those convicted of a felony murder (meaning they did not pull the trigger) will be granted a resentencing hearing where a judge can base a decision on mitigating factors and determine a sentence of 30 to 50 years. With the passage of this bill, Colorado would still have one of the harshest sentencing regimes for juveniles in the country.

The Senate sent the second bill, SB16-180, to a conference committee which made some unanimous changes including language cleanups and the removal of amendments that changed the bill substantially. Both chambers will next consider the conference committee report.

SB16-180 allows certain Coloradans who were convicted and sentenced as adults—although they were juveniles at the time—to apply for a specialized program inside the prison that teaches work, skills development and reentry skills. This gives them evidence of change, growth and rehabilitation if, after 25 years inside, they apply to the governor for clemency.

Under current law, every inmate in Colorado has the right to petition for clemency and the governor has discretion to grant clemency at any time, but has little information on which to base his or her decision.

“People who were incarcerated when they were children deserve a way to earn their way out of prison, find redemption, and improve their lives,” said Rep. Kagan, D-Cherry Hills Village. “This bill makes the clemency process for those individuals better informed, better considered and more just.”

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