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BY DON THOMPSON
SACRAMENTO, Calif.--Gov. Jerry Brown on Sunday announced signing a bill that could one day bring the release of some criminals who were sentenced as juveniles to life in prison.
There are 309 inmates serving life-without-parole sentences in California for murders committed when they were younger than 18.
Brown signed SB9, by Democratic Sen. Leland Yee of San Francisco. It would let the inmates ask judges to reconsider their sentences after they serve at least 15 years in prison.
Judges could then reduce the no-parole sentence to 25 years-to-life if the inmate shows remorse and is taking steps toward rehabilitation.
Yee said his bill recognizes that young people's brains and impulse control grow as they age. His bill was opposed by the state's major law enforcement and victims' organizations.
"I am proud that today California said we believe all kids, even those we had given up on in the past, are deserving of a second chance," Yee said in a statement.
California is one of 39 states that allow judges to sentence minors to die in prison. More than 2,570 people convicted as juveniles are serving life sentences without the possibility of parole in the U.S., according to the Youth Justice Coalition, an Inglewood-based group concerned with the treatment of juvenile offenders.
The U.S. Supreme Court recently struck down mand-atory life without parole sentences for juveniles as unconstitutional "cruel and unusual" punishment. But the ruling didn't affect California's law because it already gives judges the discretion to impose a sentence of 25 years-to-life.
Opponents say the bill is unfair to victims' families. Allowing the possibility of parole would force the survivors to relive their experience as they fight against parole.
"Before, we had life without possibility of parole--without," said Maggie Elvey of Sacramento, who helped organize opposition to the bill. "It's so sad that they're taking the justice away."
She said survivors like herself were told that their loved one's murderers would never be released from prison.
"It's not fair to go retroactive back to all those killers," she said.
Yee struggled for a year to get the bill through the Legislature over opposition from organizations representing police chiefs, sheriffs, prosecutors, victims and many rank-and-file law enforcement officers. He had support from some individual law enforcement officials, notably San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, Police Chief Greg Suhr and interim Sheriff Vicki Hennessy.
It was his third attempt in five years. He succeeded in getting it through the Legislature this year, with no Republican votes, only after amending the bill to exclude young offenders who tortured their victims or killed a law enforcement officer or firefighter.