The following letter has been sent to California Gov. Jerry Brown by AHA Executive Director Roy Speckhardt.
American Humanist Association
1777 T Street NW, Washington, D.C., 20009
Telephone: 202 238 9088 Fax: 202 238 9003
August 23, 2012
The Honorable Edmund Brown
Governor of the State of California
Sacramento, CA 95814
RE: Support for SB 9 – The Fair Sentencing for Youth Act
Dear Governor Brown:
My name is Roy Speckhardt, and I am executive director of the American Humanist Association. I’m writing to you today to inform you of the AHA’s support of Senate Bill 9 and to urge you to support it as well by signing it into law. As a national organization, the AHA recognizes the importance of this bill in bringing California in line with the rest of the world.
The American Humanist Association is an educational organization that strives to bring about a progressive society where being good without gods is an accepted way to live life. We are accomplishing this through our defense of civil liberties and secular governance, by our outreach to the growing number of people without traditional religious faith, and through a continued refinement and advancement of the humanist worldview. Humanism encompasses a variety of nontheistic views (atheism, agnosticism, rationalism, naturalism, secularism, and so forth) while adding the important element of a comprehensive worldview and set of ethical values—values that are grounded in the philosophy of the Enlightenment, informed by scientific knowledge, and driven by a desire to meet the needs of people in the here and now.
Humanists believe that youth who commit crimes should be held accountable. However, when California condemns a young person to a life behind bars, it utterly disregards the human capacity for rehabilitation and ignores the very real physical and psychological differences between children and adults. Punishment should reflect the capacity of young people to change and mature. Senate Bill 9 would ensure that youth offenders would face severe punishment for their crimes while giving them a chance to work towards parole if they can show they have rehabilitated.
Law, science, and common sense all agree: teenagers are different from adults. Nationally, people under the age of 18 cannot use alcohol or cigarettes, sign a lease, join the military, or vote. Our laws recognize that they are not mature enough for these responsibilities. Yet, in California, youth are sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Senate Bill 9 provides for review of youth offender cases after the individual has served a substantial amount of time in prison.
Penalties for serious crimes can still be meaningful without being a death-in-prison sentence. Sentencing children to life in prison sends an unequivocal message to young people that they are beyond redemption. As a country, we should not be in the practice of discarding our youth for life and instead provide motivations and opportunities for rehabilitation and the potential to return to their communities as productive members of society. If youth were given the chance to re-enter society, they may be more inclined to better their lives behind bars. SB 9 allows judges to reevaluate the individual and determine whether or not he or she has demonstrated growth and eligibility for parole.
The United States is the only country in the world that imposes life without parole on youth under the age of 18. In the U.S. there are over 2,500 cases of youth sentenced to life without parole and there are approximately 300. In the rest of the world, there are none. This extreme punishment is a violation of international law and fundamental human rights.
For these reasons, I support SB 9, and ask that you support this important piece of legislation.
American Humanist Association