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New Mexico Ends Juvenile Life Without Parole, Retroactively Applies Rule to Previously Convicted Minors

by Anthony W. Accurso

New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Gresham signed SB64, the No Life Sentences for Juveniles Act, into law on March 17, 2023, ending life without parole (“LWOP”) sentencing for offenders under 18 years of age. New Mexico joined 24 other states and the District of Columbia in ending LWOP for juveniles.

“When children commit serious crimes, they should be held accountable, but they should not spend their entire lives in prison without redemption,” said Democratic state senator Kristina Ortiz, a sponsor of the bill.

Some Republican lawmakers sought several amendments, excluding rapists and perpetrators of mass shootings or which sought to change how often these offenders receive parole hearings, though none of these amendments made it into the final text.

There is still work to do in New Mexico, as the state must now identify all of the eligible prisoners, some of whom are in custody in other states. ProPublica reported that New Mexico had “lost track of at least 21” of the eligible prisoners.

Depending on the crime they committed, offenders must still serve 15 to 25 years before they qualify for parole hearings. By then, the offender should have “aged out” of criminality. Even then, release will not be automatic. They will merely have an opportunity “to articulate to the parole board how they have changed, including whether they’ve taken responsibility for their actions, followed prison rules and completed educational programming.”

“I want to be productive. I want to do something good instead of bad,” said Jerry Torres, one of the lifers identified by ProPublica. “It’s as simple as that.”  

 

Sources: cnn.com, propublica.org

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