Arkansas House passes juvenile sentencing bill

By: 
The Associated Press
Staff Writer

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The Arkansas House passed a bill Tuesday that would eliminate mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juveniles.

The bill co-sponsored by Republican Rep. Rebecca Petty and GOP Sen. Missy Irvin passed House on an 86-1 vote. It's meant to bring Arkansas' sentencing standards in line with recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions that say mandatory life sentences for juveniles are unconstitutional.

"The decision to run this piece of legislation was not easy due to my personal struggles with the justice system," Petty told the House. Petty is the mother of a young girl who was killed. The man convicted in her daughter's death is currently on death row on Arkansas.

The proposal would apply retroactively to juveniles sentenced for offenses committed before their 18th birthday. It would allow minors who were given life-without-parole sentences to be eligible for parole after serving 20 to 30 years in prison, depending on the charges.

The Arkansas Parole Board would determine parole eligibility.

"It is not a get-out-of-jail-free card," Petty said.

Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth advocacy director James Dold told The Associated Press there are about 110 inmates in the Arkansas justice system sentenced to life without parole as minors.

Dold's organization has been working with Irvin and Petty on the proposed measure, which he said is a simple way for the state to comply with recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions.

"It's also reflective of the more moral way we treat our children," Dold said.

Xavier McElrath-Bey, senior adviser and national advocate for the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, spoke in favor of the legislation at a House committee meeting.

McElrath-Bey told The Associated Press the needs of children who go into the criminal justice system should be recognized, and that they are capable of change.

The bill has already passed the Senate and now goes to Gov. Asa Hutchinson for his signature.

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