The Arkansas House Judiciary Committee postponed a decision on a bill Tuesday that would end life sentences without parole for crimes committed by juveniles. The bill was pulled down for amendments following nearly two hours of discussion.
House Bill 1197 would end life without parole for individuals convicted of committing murder before the age of 18 and allows for parole eligibility after a 20 year sentence if there was no intent to murder and 28 years for an intentional killing.
James Dold with the Washington D.C. based organization, the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, spoke in support of the act citing recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions that have relied on research about adolescent brain development and the potential for young people to reform in prison. He said the bill would prevent the possibility of future litigation.
“It’s important to ask the question, if these were our kids, what would we want done with them? No kid is born bad and they shouldn’t be discarded for life,” said Dold.
Arkansas Prosecuting Attorneys Association President, Larry Jegley, spoke against the bill. He said it would create unjustly uniform punishments for juveniles who commit capital offenses and disregard the will of juries. He said legislators should think of victims first.
“None of ya’ll would want to be sitting at the table when I or one of my twenty seven colleagues have to sit down with that family and they said ‘wait a minute, you told us that they were going to be away for the rest of their life, and now you’re telling us they’re going to get out?’” asked Jegley.
Rep. Greg Leding, D-Fayetteville, sponsored the house version of the bill. Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain Home, is sponsor of the Senate bill. According to Leding, 113 juveniles are currently sentenced to life without parole in Arkansas.