Possible Changes to Parole for Juveniles Serving Life Sentence

The hot topic before the state’s Senate right now is a bill that could give juveniles who are serving a life sentence the opportunity to become eligible for parole after serving a minimum of 20 years, the Berkshire Eagle reports.Juvenile Life Without Parole

Specifics of the Current Law Under the current law in Massachusetts, those defendants who are convicted of first-degree murder are sentenced to life in prison without the opportunity to earn parole, regardless of the defendant’s age. This means that even a juvenile who is convicted of first-degree murder will spend the rest of his or her life in prison. However, the current law is not in alignment with recent rulings from the United States Supreme Court and Massachusetts’ highest state court, which both consider mandatory life sentences for juveniles to be unconstitutional.

To address this issue, state lawmakers have developed a proposed bill, which cleared the Senate Ethics and Rules Committee this past week, prescribing that those juveniles who are convicted of first-degree murder before the age of 18 would be eligible for parole after serving between 20 and 30 years of their life sentence. In cases where the murder was particularly gruesome, violent or was committed with “extreme atrocity or cruelty,” there is a provision of the proposed bill that would increase the wait time for parole eligibility until 25 to 30 years of the life sentence has been served.

Being eligible for parole is not the same as obtaining parole. Inmates would have to become eligible for parole, and then request parole. A parole board would next consider the request. Under the proposed bill, a denial from the parole board could result in the inmate not getting another opportunity to request parole for up to 10 years, which is twice as long as the current waiting period (presently inmates must wait 5 years in between parole requests).

Opinions on the appropriateness of this bill run the gamut. Some individuals take the position that a 35-year waiting period before an inmate can become eligible for parole is appropriate because these inmates were convicted of first-degree murder, whereas others advocate for a shorter waiting period of only 15 years, arguing that 15 years is plenty of time for inmates to be rehabilitated. Hopefully, the state Senate will make a decision on the matter.

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