Ohio lawmakers are considering changes that could require judicial review for juveniles sentenced to life in prison — a move a wide swath of advocates say could give some young offenders a second chance later in life while saving the state money.
In a hearing before the Ohio Senate's Judiciary Committee yesterday, supporters lined out those arguments in favor of Senate Bill 256, which would create a procedure by which the state's parole board would review exceptionally long sentences for minors. In some cases, minors as young as 15 have been sentenced to as much as 110 years in prison or more for violent offenses.
The language of the Senate bill specifies crimes for which life in prison without parole is a possible punishment and adds provisions specifying that "no person who is not found to have been eighteen years of age or older at the time of the commission of the offense shall be imprisoned for life without parole."
The change in state law would bring Ohio in line with U.S. Supreme Court and Ohio Supreme Court rulings that say that sentencing juveniles to extended sentences without any practical chance of review and eventual release violates the Constitution's 8th Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Some state judges say the proposed law would clear up current litigation involving the state around those high court decisions.
Juvenile justice reform advocates point to neurobiological evidence showing that young peoples' brains aren't fully developed yet and that decision-making abilities are weaker for minors.
"Children are less culpable than adults," Niki Clum of the Office of the Ohio Public Defender told the committee yesterday. "They have less control over their environments. They are more susceptible to peer pressure and their brains, specifically the frontal lobe which is responsible for executive functioning, are not fully developed to weigh long-term consequences."
The Ohio Justice and Policy Center also supports the bill, noting that juvenile life sentences on average cost the state of Ohio more than $4 million each.