Debate Over Youth Prison Sentences Continues in New Mexico
Friday, September 24, 2021
SANTA FE, N.M. -- A New Mexico legislator is optimistic a bill will pass in the 2022 session to prohibit life sentences for juveniles convicted of crimes.
This year, a bill to end life sentences and mandated earlier probation eligibility for juveniles easily passed in the Senate, but died without a vote in the House.
Sen. Bill O'Neill, D-Albuquerque, a juvenile justice advocate, thinks teens who have committed crimes should get a parole hearing if they show signs of remorse or redemption.
"If you're a juvenile, you are a child, and you should not be sentenced to life without parole," O'Neill asserted. "A person should at least be eligible, if they've worked on their stuff, and they committed a crime at age 16."
O'Neill previously sponsored a bill approved by the governor, which prohibits private employers from inquiring about someone's criminal history on an initial job application.
About 75 New Mexicans are currently serving sentences longer than 15 years for crimes they committed before they were 18, according to the New Mexico Coalition for the Fair Sentencing of Youth.
O'Neill admits it is difficult to hear the stories of victims of crimes committed by young people, but he noted the behavior often can be explained.
"The perpetrator is oftentimes from a horrific upbringing; poverty, drug abuse, sexual abuse, etc.," O'Neill noted. "That behavior doesn't come out of left field."
The group "Leaders Organizing 2 Unite and Decriminalize" or LOUD said to create a more fair and equitable juvenile justice system, policymakers need to do more to educate themselves about the experiences of young people who've been incarcerated.
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