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California’s Youth Offender Parole Law—What You Should Know

Gavel and Parole on top of manila envelope

In recent years, California has been moving away from its previous trend of long, grueling punishments for minor offenses, with strategies such as: lighter sentences for drug possession under Proposition 47; thousands of parole approvals by Gov. Jerry Brown for inmates who had been serving life sentences; and the California Youth Offender Parole process, enacted in January of 2014. If you believe you or your loved one may be eligible for parole under the Youth Offender program, speak with an experienced California criminal defense attorney to learn more about the program.

What is Youth Offender Parole?

Youth Offender Parole is a law that offers the possibility of early release to inmates who were under the age of 18 when they committed the crimes for which they were convicted. So far, about 250 California inmates have been released under Youth Offender Parole, and experts estimate that 16,000 others are eligible for release under the program. In order to meet basic eligibility requirements, the inmate must have been under 18 when they committed a crime for which they were tried as adults and sentenced either to life or to a determinate sentence. Those who were sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, who received a life sentence under the “Three Strikes” law after committing two or more serious or violent felonies, or those who committed certain sex offenses and received a life sentence under the “One Strike” law, are not eligible for a Youth Offender Parole hearing.

What does Youth Offender Parole provide?

The law states that Youth Offender Parole is intended to “provide a meaningful opportunity to obtain release” for those who were under 18 when convicted of a serious crime. The law provides for parole hearings that include a consideration of three factors not normally acknowledged during a parole hearing:

  • The diminished culpability of youth—meaning, the reduced degree to which those under 18 are responsible for their actions, as compared to adults,
  • The hallmark features of youth—meaning, the manner in which the young are unable to predict the consequences of their actions, possible risks of their behavior, or the amount of pressure exerted on them by their peer group, and
  • The subsequent growth and increased maturity of the prisoner.

The parole board is instructed to offer great weight to consideration of these factors for those who committed crimes under age 18. Inmates eligible for a Youth Offender Parole hearing will first be eligible at either the 15th, 20th or 25th year of imprisonment, depending on their specific sentence.

Should I have a lawyer at my Youth Offender Parole hearing?

Individuals who are eligible for a parole hearing under the Youth Offender Parole program are permitted to have an attorney represent them at their hearing. Having an attorney can provide a significant advantage under this law, since the law offers a whole new set of factors under which the attorney can advocate for your release. Attorneys are offered a host of new arguments through the law that can offer eligible inmates a greater chance for early release. Skilled lawyers will use emerging neurological research and evidence of the impaired decision-making abilities of young adults to show diminished responsibility for mistakes made at a young age. Additionally, the new law gives increased weight to testimony from loved ones and members of the community as to your increased maturity since initially committing the crime for which you are imprisoned.

If you or a loved one have been convicted of a crime in California or are facing serious charges in Ventura County, contact the experienced and skilled Ventura criminal defense attorney Paul Tyler for a consultation on your case, at 805-889-9000.

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