Today, the ACLU of Virginia and the Campaign for Fair Sentencing of Youth sent a letter to members of the House Courts of Justice committee to support the decisions of Senators Wagner and Marsden to strike their bills (SB 890 and SB 96) on juvenile life without parole, rather than move ahead with the subcommittee’s recommended legislation. We all agree that the amended legislation does not benefit the youth of Virginia by giving additional credibility to the argument that geriatric parole is a “meaningful opportunity” for release.
"When striking down life-without-parole sentences for youth who commit nonhomicide offenses in Graham v. Florida (2010), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states must give these children a 'meaningful opportunity for release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation,'" stated the letter.
"Geriatric release provides individuals with an opportunity for release at age 60. For a teenager, this first opportunity for review would occur after serving 43 to 46 years in prison. This is the functional equivalent of a life-without-parole sentence for a teenager. Giving release eligibility after more than 40 years in prison does not constitute providing a meaningful opportunity for release as required by the U.S. Supreme Court."
Passing this amended legislation would further validate geriatric release as a "meaningful opportunity" for release in compliance with Graham and its progeny, which it is not. For this reason, we commend the patrons’ expressed intention to ask the full Courts of Justice Committee to strike SB 890 and SB 96 from the docket when they come before the committee on Friday, March 2, with the Subcommittee's recommended amendments.