California Senate Bill 261 signed
On October 3, 2015, Governor Brown signed into law Senate Bill 261. This new law extends the right to youth offender parole hearings to inmates who were age 18-22 at the time of their commitment offenses. It is a follow-up Senate Bill 260, which went into law in 2014. Together, the two bills make youth offender parole hearings available to anyone who was under age 22 at the time of the commitment offense.
In many cases, this means that people will get parole hearings earlier than they otherwise would have. In all cases where the new law is applicable, the Board of Parole Hearings will have to take into account special factors related to the inmate’s youth at the time of the crime, and the Board will have to give those factors “great weight” in determining whether the inmate is suitable for parole.
Senate Bill 261 gives young people a chance to “turn their lives around and not be defined by the worst thing they’ve ever done,” said Fair Sentencing For Youth, an organization that supported the new bill. The new law will go into effect on January 1, 2016.
Now, the parole board has some catching up to do, with more hearings added to their existing backlog due to SB 260, second-striker hearings, and the mandate to reduce prison overcrowding.
Determining eligibility for a youth offender parole hearing under either Senate Bill 260 or Senate Bill 261 can be a complicated process. Family members of inmates are encouraged to contact experienced parole counsel for a determination, and then for preparation and representation at the youth offender parole hearing. The parole grant rate for people who were not expecting to have a hearing is under 5%.
Getting to a parole suitability hearing is just one part of the battle. Preparing for the hearing in a meaningful way is the key to freedom. This requires in-depth knowledge of the four pillars of parole: insight, remorse, culpability and responsibility, plus the ability to articulate the full victimology of one’s commitment offense. An experienced parole attorney can help the inmate prepare for the hearing, and then make sure his rights are protected at the hearing.