There are approximately 225 juveniles in California serving a life without parole sentence. California has the worst racial disparity rate in the nation for sentencing juveniles to life without parole. Black youth are given this sentence at 22 times the rate of white youth.
A number of California cases have recently been highlighted in the media due to the background of the juveniles who received the sentences, and the circumstances surrounding their crimes. One such case involves Sara Kruzan, now 31. She was raised in Riverside by her abusive, drug-addicted mother. Sara met her father only three times in her life because he was in prison.
Since the age of 9, Sara suffered from severe depression for which she was hospitalized several times. At the age of 11, she met a 31-year-old man named G.G. who molested her and began grooming her to become a prostitute. At age 13, she began working as a child prostitute for G.G. and was repeatedly molested by him. At age 16, Sara was convicted of killing him. She was sentenced to prison for the rest of her life despite her background and a finding by the California Youth Authority that she was amendable to treatment offered in the juvenile system.
“Life without parole means absolutely no opportunity for release,” said Senator Yee. (of California) “It also means minors are often left without access to programs and rehabilitative services while in prison. This sentence was created for the worst of criminals that have no possibility of reform and it is not a humane way to handle children. While the crimes they committed caused undeniable suffering, these youth offenders are not the worst of the worst.”
“As a society we’ve learned a lot since the time we started using life without parole for children,” said Elizabeth Calvin, a children’s rights advocate with Human Rights Watch. “We now know that this sentence provides no deterrent effect. While children who commit serious crimes should be held accountable, public safety can be protected without subjecting youth to the harshest prison sentence possible.”
*Written by Michelle Quann
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