Westerman Introduces Legislation Reforming Juvenile Sentencing
Today, U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) introduced a trio of juvenile sentencing reform bills that would give federal judges increased discretion when sentencing minors. Westerman issued the following statement:
“Reforming the juvenile sentencing process is overdue in the U.S. For too long, we’ve thrown young people into the justice system with an inadequate understanding of why crimes occur and what can be done to appropriately address them. That’s why I’ve introduced these three bills, to provide an avenue by which juveniles can reform their lives instead of languishing in federal prisons.
“One of the bills, named ‘Sara’s Law’ after Sara Kruzan, recognizes that girls and boys trapped in sex trafficking may resort to violence to escape. Current law all but mandates that they receive a harsh sentence, often decades in prison after already experiencing a decade of abuse. Sara’s Law would provide a way for minors to receive justice as well as space to heal.
“Put simply, laws that work for sentencing adults may not be appropriate options in the sentencing of juveniles. The goal of the justice system should be to reform and rehabilitate young people that have committed crimes, not just locking them up and throwing away the key. I’m honored to introduce legislation that begins a national conversation on these systemic problems, and I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to support it. Justice is not a partisan issue.”
H.R. 1949 prohibits federal judges from sentencing juveniles to life in prison without parole. Juveniles sentenced to life in prison would be guaranteed a parole hearing after serving 20 years. It also brings federal law into compliance with the 2012 Supreme Court decision Miller v. Alabama.
H.R. 1950 increases the discretion of federal judges sentencing juveniles for crimes associated with sex trafficking, sexual abuse, or sexual assault. The bill provides that juveniles found guilty of crimes against persons who sexually trafficked, abused, or assaulted them shall not be required to serve the mandatory minimum sentence otherwise associated with the crime, and that the presiding judge may suspend any portion of an otherwise applicable sentence if the circumstances so warrant.
H.R. 1951 directs federal judges to consider “the diminished culpability of juveniles compared to that of adults” when sentencing those who committed crimes as juveniles. It also allows federal judges to downwardly depart from mandatory minimum sentences by up to 35 percent if such a departure is deemed appropriate based on the juvenile’s age and prospects for rehabilitation.