Two Juvenile Justice Bills Now Law

(June 10) – Two bipartisan bills by Rep. Daniel Kagan, based on the idea that it is inhumane to indiscriminately sentence children to die in prison, were signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper this morning.

The first bill, SB16-181, sets a new sentencing range for the 48 people who were mandatorily sentenced to life without parole as juveniles.

“This law applies to juveniles who were sentenced to life without parole—certain death in prison—at a time when that sentence was mandatory for class 1 felonies,” said Rep. Kagan, D- Cherry Hills Village. “Judges had no choice in the matter, regardless of the individual circumstances of the crime or of the offender. Those sentences have since been declared cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment and this law creates a pathway for new, constitutional, sentences to be given to those 48 individuals.”

SB 16-181 requires that those among the 48 who committed intentional murder after deliberation be automatically re-sentenced to life in prison, but given a parole hearing after 30 or 40 years, depending on their behavior in prison. Judges will examine the cases of the other juvenile class 1 felons to determine whether extraordinary mitigating circumstances exist, which may lead to a sentence reduction from “life” to a prison term in the range of 30 to 50 years. Under the new law, Colorado still has one of the country’s most severe sentencing regimes for juveniles.

The second bill signed this morning, SB 16-180, provides a pathway for rigorously selected long-term juvenile offenders to demonstrate to the governor that they are worthy petitioners for clemency. Through the law, they can, after decades behind bars, apply for a specialized multi-year program within the prison, which gives them more independence, responsibility, work, and rehabilitative programs. Inmates who are selected for and successfully complete the program will have evidence in support of any petition for clemency they might make.

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 reliable information on which to base his or her decision.

“Some of the people who were incarcerated when they were children deserve a way to earn their way out of prison, find redemption, and contribute to society, rather than burdening the taxpayer with incarceration costs into their old age,” said Rep. Kagan. “This law makes the clemency process for those individuals less arbitrary, better considered and vastly more just.”

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