Gov. Deval Patrick introduced a new piece of legislation on Monday in an effort to offer convicted teenagers a second chance earlier in their sentence.
The proposal, "An Act to Reform the Juvenile Justice System in the Commonwealth", offers new plans regarding how the state treats teenagers who have been convicted of murder, according to MyFoxBoston.com.
Specifically, the plan aims "to create a fairer justice system for the state’s youth by extending the juvenile court jurisdiction" from age 17 to 18, and eliminating mandatory life sentences without parole for juveniles convicted of first-degree murder, according to an announcement from the Executive Department Office of Gov. Patrick Monday.
If the proposal is passed, anyone aged 14-17 years who has been charged with first- or second-degree murder would be tried in juvenile court and not as an adult.
“Every violent felon should be held accountable for their actions, even youth. But in sentencing every felon's circumstances should be considered, too, and youth itself is a special circumstance,” Patrick said in a statement Monday. “It is time for the Commonwealth's laws to reflect the value, in accord with the Supreme Court, that young people deserve every opportunity for rehabilitation and reform.”
Currently, convicted murderers receive an automatic life sentence without the possibility of parole. Under the new proposal, however, those convicted would be eligible for parole 15 to 25 years after their incarceration. The juvenile court could also sentence life without parole after first considering several factors, including the person’s immaturity, ability to appreciate the risk associated with, and consequences of, the person’s criminal misconduct, whether the person acted alone, the person’s intellectual capacity, and the likelihood that the offender is capable of change and would benefit from rehabilitation, among others, according to the announcement Monday.
The Commonwealth currently has 62 people serving life sentences for murders committed between the ages of 15 to 17 years, according to MyFoxBoston.com.
The legislation follows a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that mandatory criminal sentences of life in prison without the possibility of parole, imposed on defendants who were younger than 18 when they committed their crimes, were unconstitutional.
Meanwhile, lawmakers have offered alternative proposals, according to Boston.com, one of which would keep teen murderers behind bars for a minimum of 35 years.
What do you think about the new proposal? Should convicted teens have a chance at earlier parole? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.