Juvenile Justice

What is happening to our society?  Crime is on the rise but there is a national movement to excuse the offenders.

The age of the offenders is decreasing with the number of victims of violent crime increasing.  The sentence of Life without the possibility of parole (LWOP) is often given to killers who commit the most aggravated of offenses.  Some of these killers are juveniles under the age of 18 who are found to be approppriatley tried as adults.  There is a movement advocating to abolish the juvenile LWOP sentence.  Several states have taken action creating tougher sentencing laws including adding life without the possibility of parole for killers who are juveniles (age 16 and older), and there is a constant push back to give these young violent criminals a second chance.

Chris Ward with the Crime Victims Action Alliance (CVAA) had the opportunity to sit down with Elizabeth Calvin with Human Rights Watch in 2007 to discuss the bill before the legislature in California to abolish life without the possibility of parole (LWOP) for minors.  Human Rights Watch, and other human rights advocates, believes that the sentence of LWOP is too severe for killers under the age of 18.  They believe that by sentencing a "child" to life without the possibility of parole takes away their opportunity for a second chance at life.  They also argue that those sentenced to LWOP while under the age of 18 were not properly represented and that the sentence was race related.  The CVAA believes that while our criminal justice system is not perfect, there are means in which to "weed" out those who should not be there.  Judges, defense attorneys, prosecutors, jurors, the appeals process, the Governor – are all means in which to exonerate those who are truly misrepresented as criminals.

The meeting between Chris and Elizabeth did not end with each party agreeing completely with the other, however, it did give us an opportunity to discuss our differences and the different ways we view this law.

There is a national movement to abolish LWOP for juveniles being led by Human Rights Watch.  This law exists in most every state.  Unfortunately, many of us are not made aware of the attempt to change the law until it is too late.  CVAA was fortunate here in California to catch the first attempt by getting notice of the bill prior to its last floor vote.  CVAA has been successful in defeating the bill for two years now, but we are active participants in the process.  In many states victims are not part of the legislative process and laws that will directly affect their lives are often voted for and signed into law without them ever knowing about it.

A new organization has been created, the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile "Lifers" (NOVJL).  NOVJL was formed to advocate for the family and friends of murder victims killed by someone under the age of 18 who was tried as an adult and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. They work to inform, support and empower victim's voices in the public policy debate surrounding the JLWOP sentence.

If you are the victim/survivor of a murderer who killed under the age of 18 and is serving LWOP, please contact the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile "Lifers".

Every year CVAA will do our best to keep you informed about important bills in the California State Legislature as well as national legislation that affects victims of crime.  Please check back on our Public Policy/Legislation page periodically for updated information.