Westerman Introduces Juvenile Sentencing Reforms

April 28, 2021
Press Release

WASHINGTON - Today, U.S. Reps. Bruce Westerman (R-AR), Tony Cárdenas (D- CA), Karen Bass (D-CA), and David Trone (D-MD) introduced “Sara’s Law and the Preventing Unfair Sentencing Act.” This bill gives federal judges more discretion when sentencing juveniles and will allow for children, who have been caught up in the justice system, to have a second chance to succeed. 

“‘Sara’s Law and the Preventing Unfair Sentencing Act’ is named after Sara Kruzan and recognizes that children trapped in sex trafficking or sexual abuse may resort to violence to escape their abuse,” said Rep. Westerman. “It is unacceptable that current law requires that children forced to use violence to protect themselves against their abuser receive a harsh sentence, furthering their trauma. Discretion is needed when dealing with children to address the cause of the crime and the likelihood of rehabilitation. This bill works in a bipartisan basis to find appropriate sentencing for abused boys and girls, because justice is an American value.”

“It’s important for judges to consider and take a child's experience and other factors into consideration when sentencing juveniles," said Rep. Cárdenas. “Sara’s Law and the Preventing Unfair Sentencing Act is a step towards a balanced system centered on healing and rehabilitation, and one that is key to ensuring a child’s life is not thrown away in the juvenile justice system.”

“Studies have proven that punishing children the way we punish adults does not advance public safety,” said Rep. Karen Bass, co-Chair of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth. “After decades of increasingly punitive and failed juvenile justice policies, it’s time to take a step in a direction that recognizes that children are different than adults, that they have enormous potential for rehabilitation, change, and growth, and that we can do better to meet their developmental needs. I’m proud to join my colleagues in introducing this vital piece of legislation.”

“We are one of few countries around the world that sentences children to die in prison. We ought to be ashamed of that," said Rep. Trone. "A sentence of life in prison without out any possibility of release is excessively harsh for children, who do not have the same capacity as adults. In many cases, these children are themselves victims of abuse or neglect. We need a justice system centered around rehabilitation, and banning this sentence for young people will provide them with a chance to grow, learn from their mistakes, and lead productive lives once they’ve served their time.”

Background

H.R. 2858 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. 

 H. R. 2858 also allows judges to consider “the diminished culpability of juveniles compared to that of adults” when sentencing those who committed crimes as juveniles and allows federal judges to depart from mandatory minimum sentences by up to 35 percent if deemed appropriate based on the juvenile’s age and prospects for rehabilitation. The presiding judge may also suspend any portion of an otherwise applicable sentence if the circumstances so warrant.

Additionally, it prohibits federal judges from sentencing juveniles to life in prison without parole and brings federal law into compliance with the 2012 Supreme Court decision Miller v. Alabama. Juveniles sentenced to life in prison would be guaranteed a parole hearing after serving 20 years.

Find the full text of H.R. 2858 here