Solorio inexplicably votes to keep life sentences for children.

I’m writing this because I hope Jose changes his vote when this comes up again today (Friday.) MONDAY.  If you want to call him, his number is 714-939-8469 or 916-319-2069.  We would like him to vote in favor of Leland Yee’s SB 399, the “Fair Sentencing For Youth Act,” especially now that it has been amended to be a little tougher.

In California, many young people under the age of 18 are sentenced to spend the rest of their lives in prison. No other country in the world allows this barbaric practice – not Russia, not Iran, not Cuba.  Senate Bill 399, the Fair Sentencing For Youth Act, would review these cases and require young people to work towards rehabilitation. If they can prove that they have turned their lives around, they will have an opportunity to be resentenced.

Typically many of these kids were doing something dumb like acting as a lookout during a drug deal where a murder ended up taking place, and then everybody involved got life.  This bill, which would only affect about 250 such prisoners, would allow them to show that they have reformed and try to make a new start after simply hanging out with the wrong crowd when they were 16 or 17.  And apart from the simple humanity of the measure, not keeping all these poor kids in prison their whole lives would save taxpayers tens of millions of dollars.

But when the bill got to the assembly floor on Tuesday, it sadly fell seven votes short of passage.  As David Dayen wrote in his outraged summary:

The State Assembly, dominated by Democrats with a 50-29 majority (with one independent), voted down a bill that would have allowed courts to review cases of juveniles sentences to life without the possibility of parole.  The sponsor of the bill, LeLand Yee (D-San Francisco), noted that “No other country in the world outside of the United States allows children to be sentenced to life without parole.”  But over a dozen Assembly Democrats, either worried about close races in November or future statewide races (and the hopes of gaining support from police officers, prison guards or other interests that support the “tough on crime” status quo), either voted against the bill or walked away from the vote. This bill would have affected a grand total of 250 inmates and gave them the opportunity to prevent being locked up from a mistake made when they were children.

Santa Ana’s own Jose Solorio was one of the “No” votes.  As nobody can remember the name of whatever Republican is running against him this year, he doesn’t fall under the “close race” category, but he IS a major recipient of Prison Guard money.  His office was unable to give me an explanation for his “No” vote, so for now we can only assume he is trying to keep that Prison Guard money flowing rather than doing the right thing. [update:  Jose lets us know via Facebook that the correctional peace officers association actually supports the bill.  This merely makes it even more mystifying why he’s opposing it.]

In order to make the bill more palatable to these cautious, “tough-on-crime” Democrats, author Leland Yee has added a few amendments, and will be trying again to pass it today (Friday.) Monday.  Those alterations:

  • Instead of allowing youth offenders to appeal their sentence after 10 years in prison, they would have to wait until year 15.
  • Convicts would be restricted to two appeals, instead of a total of four.
  • Juvenile defendants would have to “show remorse and work toward rehabilitation” before they can be considered for a new hearing.
  • The new sentence could only be 25 years to life, nothing more lenient.

Solorio’s office was also unsure yesterday how he would vote today with these amendments.  Let’s hope he does the right thing and helps to pass this important, sensible and humane bill.  We will keep you updated!

More, IMPORTANT stuff on the Fair Sentencing For Youth Act here – including documentation of my above minimization of the crimes of many of these kids.  Another great article here which should give you sympathy for these unfortunates.


About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official troubador of both Anaheim and Huntington Beach (the two ends of the Santa Ana Aquifer.) Performs regularly both solo, and with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at vernpnelson@gmail.com, or 714-235-VERN.