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Reinstate Parole for Juveniles Serving Life without Parole

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There are so many juveniles serving life sentences and they deserve a chance to show they have been rehabilitated and can make a change.  Here is a letter from one of them:

My name is David Sanchez and I am writing to bring your attention to the sentencing of juveniles to life without parole being practiced in Virginia and several other states.  I am also writing to humbly ask for your support in changing this practice.  I urge you to read the following with an open mind and heart.

This is a growing issue of national concern.  There are currently 2594 juveniles serving life without parole in the US.  There are 23 states do not allow this practice or have changed their laws.  Virginia is ranked #11 in the nation with 56 juveniles serving life without parole.  No other country in the world allows the sentencing of juveniles to life without parole.  Virginia is handing out this sentence at an alarming rate.  In doing so, it is in direct violation of the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC), which the US signed in 1995.  Article 37(a) of the CRC clearly states the following:  “Neither capital punishment nor life imprisonment without possibility of release shall be imposed for offences committed by persons below 18 years of age.”  In Roper V. Simmons the US Supreme Court decided to abolish the sentencing of juveniles to death.  Part of this decision was based on the US signing the CRC.  Also recognized were the distinct differences between youth and adults.  The age of 18 is the line society has drawn, but it has been clinically proven the brain (ESP Comprehension) is still developing until the age of 25 years.  How is it possible for one to make life changing decisions (i.e. voting, joining the military, entrance into certain establishments, bank loans, etc.) when you must be 18 years of age, yet if one makes a mistake, he is held or viewed as an adult?  Virginia Congressman, Bobby Scott asked this same question.  In May 2009, he sponsored and introduced Bill HR 2289 (co-sponsored by Representatives Conyers, Jackson-Lee, Richardson and Watt) in front of the 111th Congress.  The bill asked for the sentence of life without parole to be stopped for juveniles and allow them to be eligible for parole.

I understand this is a complex issue and many factors need to be taken into consideration.  I feel someone needs to introduce a bill for Virginia legislation.  Although juveniles sentenced to life account for a small percentage of the US prison population, who better to start reform than our youth.  According to many studies, those incarcerated before the age of 18 are the most susceptible to reform and rehabilitation.  The recidivism rate for this group is less than 1%.  Life without parole should be reserved for adults who are unredeemable; unmemorable.  Clearly children are not deserving of this punishment. 

I do not wish to imply that those crimes should go unpunished.  I accept full responsibility for my actions.  I am a person serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for a crime I committed at the age of 17 here in Virginia.  I am 31 years old now and have been incarcerated for over 14 years.  For 14 years not one day has gone by without a thought of remorse and regret.  I have spent the past 14 years bettering and improving myself in all aspects of my life; for no other reason than self-want.  I was an irresponsible, immature, reckless teenager, who made a horrible mistake.  I write this letter as a man, a very humbled man through age, experience, and life in general.  My entire thought process, views on life and principles have changed.  I am no where remotely close to having the mindset of that reckless kid who made such terrible decisions.  I do not believe any adult thinks or acts the way they did as a teenager.  I understand there is still so much life has to teach me.  I only ask for the chance to show positive change can occur.  Allowing juveniles a chance at parole is not a release, it is simply giving them the chance to prove they have been reformed and can be responsible, productive members of society. 

I humbly ask you to look at Bill HR 2289 that Bobby Scott has sponsored, to look into further studies and reports on this subject, and seek to adopt it into Virginia legislation.  I know your time is very valuable and I thank you very much for any consideration you can give this matter.  God Bless.

Updated Oct. 17, 2012

In June 2012 the US Supreme Court decided that it is unconstitutional to put juveniles away for life without parole as a mandatory sentence.  The State and National laws are changing.  We would like Virginia to following states like California and North Carolina in letting these juveniles eliable for parole after serving 15-25 years.  Let them prove to the review board that they have changed.  Thank you!

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