SANTA FE, NM—The New Mexico House of Representatives passed SB 64 No Life Sentence for Juveniles today in the early hours of the morning. With the governor’s signature, New Mexico would join 26 states and Washington D.C. in banning life without parole as a sentencing option for children. The bill’s sponsors include Sens. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez and Bill B. O'Neill, and Reps. Kristina Ortez and Gail Chasey, Democratic Majority Floor Leader.
“My colleagues understood that all children are capable of and worthy of redemption,” said Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez. “Any parent knows children are different from adults, and now the State of New Mexico recognizes that we have to take that into consideration when sentencing children. I am grateful that this will give hope to children who have made big mistakes so that they can seek redemption and the transformation they are capable of attaining.”
Brain-development research shows youth lack the judgment and self-control that come with adulthood.
A recent study suggests re-encarceration rates are extremely low among juvenile lifers who were released following sentencing reform. After 1.5 years, only 1% returned to prison.
“I was so grateful to receive a sentence that allowed me a chance to return to my community and account for the harm that I caused as a young person,” said Carissa McGee, who was sent to prison at 16 years old after committing a serious violent offense. “I spent time in prison with many people, who like me, were sent to adult prison as children. Unlike me, they didn’t have a second chance. I am so glad they now will. No one wants to do good in the world more than someone who has caused harm and experienced a transformed heart. Our communities deserve their contributions.”
SB 64 creates developmentally meaningful timing for parole eligibility, while balancing a commitment to consequences and accountability in the most severe of cases. The bill does not allow for automatic release, but gives youth the opportunity for review.
“We are all more than the worst thing we have done, and now our state and our community will have the opportunity to see how those who caused harm as young people are doing decades later,” said Majority Floor leader Gail Chasey.
“The voices of those with loved ones serving these sentences have led this campaign and have touched the hearts of lawmakers,” said Denali Wilson, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico. “The governor now has the opportunity to sign this important legislation into law.”
The legislation puts New Mexico into compliance with federal law and and U.S. Supreme Court and state court decisions that require that individuals who were under age eighteen at the time of their offense have a meaningful opportunity for release.
More information about the bill can be found here: https://www.aclu-nm.org/en/legislation/juvenile-parole-bill