Ark. S.B. 294, 91st Gen. Assemb. (Reg. Sess. 2017) (amending Ark. Code §§ 5-4-104(b), 5-4-602(3), 5-10-101(c), 5-10-102(c), 16-93-612(e), 16-93-613, 16-93-614, 16-93-618, and enacting new sections).
Arkansas passed a statute in 2017 eliminating life without parole for juveniles. The statute provides that juveniles convicted of capital murder are subject to a sentence of life with eligibility for parole after 30 years. Juveniles convicted of murder in the first degree and sentenced to life are eligible for parole no later than after serving 25 years. An individual convicted of a crime committed under the age of 18 in which the death of another person did not occur is eligible for parole no later than after 20 years’ incarceration (unless by law the juvenile is eligible for parole earlier). The parole provisions of the statute apply retroactively to offenses committed before, on, or after the effective date of the act. The statute requires that juveniles convicted of capital murder or murder in the first degree receive a comprehensive mental health evaluation prior to sentencing. However, the evaluation is not admissible into evidence at trial or sentencing if the juvenile objects. The statute directs the parole board to ensure that parole eligibility hearings take into account how a minor offender is different from an adult offender and provide a meaningful opportunity to be released on parole based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation. The prisoner may have an attorney present to represent him or her at the parole eligibility hearing. Victims shall be notified of the hearing. At the hearing, the board shall consider a set of youth-related factors.