In December 2013, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) ruled that Massachusetts long-standing practice of subjecting children to life without parole sentences was unconstitutional. In doing so, the SJC joined a growing list of states around the country that have eliminated these sentences for children. the SJC required judges to make individualized decisions about the cases before them, and required that all young people have an opportunity to seek parole no earlier than 15 years into their sentence. There is no guarantee that they will ever be released.
The SJC decision establishes clear standards for the appropriate sentencing of youth, but there is more work to be done. The Massachusetts Coalition for the Fair Sentencing of Youth believes that every child should have the chance to prove that they are worthy of reentering society. Accordingly, our sentencing laws for young people should reflect the following principles:
Xavier McElrath-Bey served 13 years for his involvement in a murder in Chicago. Xavier was given a second chance and is now a father, youth worker and is a contributing member of his community.
Dolphy was born addicted to heroin, abused as a child, and frequently moved between foster homes. He was convicted as a teenager of first degree murder. Fortunately, Dolphy was given a second chance. Today, he works with high-risk youth, helping to ensure that they stay on a productive and healthy path into adulthood, rather than a destructive path into prison.
We would like all youth convicted of murder in Massachusetts to have the same opportunity as Xavier and Dolphy to transform their lives. And while the SJC decision is a clear victory for Massachusetts, there's more we must do! Currently, there is a bill pending that asks for a 35 year minimum sentence before parole eligibility. Additionally, it incorporates very stringent criteria making achieving parole difficult. If signed into law, this sentencing scheme could become the equivalent of life without parole for many of our youth. We need YOUR help to ensure this does not happen!