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NM Misses Chance to Ban 'Life Without Parole' Sentences for Youths

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Thursday, February 17, 2022   

With hours remaining in New Mexico's 2022 legislative session, a bill to disallow life sentences without the possibility of parole for juveniles was withdrawn from consideration.

The bill would not have guaranteed, but instead created the "opportunity" for parole after 15 years in jail for juveniles sentenced as adults, but advocates such as the ACLU of New Mexico pointed out some lawmakers attempted to amend the bill beyond recognition.

Denali Wilson, staff attorney for the ACLU of New Mexico, said demands for parole eligibility to be increased substantially beyond the 15 years were not acceptable.

"We're proud that bill sponsors rejected amendments that would have violated this principle and eroded the spirit of the legislation," Wilson stated.

Senate Bill 43 passed in the Senate last week, but House GOP lawmakers argued its passage would favor the interests of criminals over their victims. Supporters plan to reintroduce the bill in 2023.

Mike Rose was watching the bill closely, hoping after 28 years, his son Jeremy might be closer to a parole hearing. He said his son is not the same person he was back in 1994 when at age 18, he participated in the stabbing deaths of an elderly couple.

Rose noted his wife passed away in 2021, without knowing if their son will ever get a chance for life outside of prison.

"I can't even begin to imagine what these families have gone through, suffering these tragedies," Rose remarked. "But what does it say about us as a society where we take our children and throw them away into a system, never to be seen again."

In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down life sentences without the possibility of parole for juvenile offenders based on neuroscientific evidence that adolescent brains are undeveloped compared with those of adults.

Wilson emphasized under New Mexico's proposal, a 15-year-old convicted of a heinous crime would not be eligible for parole until they were 30 years old.

"Which is a developmentally meaningful time," Wilson contended. "That is a time in which statistically people pose an extremely low risk of reoffending."

New Mexico would've become the 26th state to abolish juvenile life without parole.

Disclosure: The Annie E. Casey Foundation contributes to our fund for reporting on Children's Issues, Criminal Justice, Early Childhood Education, Education, Juvenile Justice, and Welfare Reform. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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