S.B. 394 (Cal. 2017) (amending Cal. Penal Code § 3051).
A.B. 1308 (Cal. 2017) (amending Cal. Penal Code § 3051).
California passed a statute in 2017 that retroactively eliminates life-without-parole sentences for children. The new statute provides that a person sentenced to life without parole for an offense committed before age 18 is eligible for parole at a youth offender parole hearing during his or her 25th year of incarceration.
California also passed a separate statute in 2017 that extends youth offender parole eligibility to individuals who committed offenses before age 25. This statute amended an earlier statute providing new parole eligibility rules for individuals who committed crimes under age 23 and directing the parole board to use special criteria and procedures in these cases. Now, youth offenders are eligible for parole in California as follows, subject to certain exceptions: (1) those convicted of controlling offenses committed at age 25 or younger and sentenced to a determinate sentence are eligible after 15 years; (2) those convicted of controlling offenses committed at age 25 or younger and sentenced to less than 25 years to life are eligible after 20 years; (3) those convicted of controlling offenses committed at age 25 or younger and sentenced to 25 years to life will be eligible after 25 years. Individuals sentenced to life without parole for controlling offenses committed under age 18 are eligible after 25 years. Significantly, the parole board must refer solely to a “controlling offense” when determining eligibility—meaning the longest-term offense. Thus, the statute effectively eliminates consecutive sentences for eligible juveniles with respect to calculating parole eligibility. In addition, among other requirements, the statute instructs the parole board to “give great weight to the diminished culpability of juveniles as compared to adults, the hallmark features of youth, and any subsequent growth and increased maturity of the prisoner in accordance with relevant case law” in reviewing a prisoner’s suitability for parole. Under the statute, the board must meet with the inmate six years prior to his or her parole eligibility date and provide the inmate with “information about the parole hearing process, legal factors relevant to his or her suitability or unsuitability for parole, and individualized recommendations for the inmate regarding his or her work assignments, rehabilitative programs, and institutional behavior.”