Lies, Smears and Jerry Brown’s Chance to Give Kids Doing Life in Prison a New Start

LAPD union doesn’t want truth interfering with the fate of California juveniles sentenced to life without parole.

Jerry Brown, California, SB9, Juvenile justice, life without parole, LAPD
Will Jerry Brown fall for SB9 opponents’ dirty pool? (Photo: Noah Berger/Reuters)
Matt Fleischer is a TakePart contributor who was awarded a Fund for Investigative Journalism grant for his series “Dangerous Jails.”

Juvenile justice advocates in California scored a major victory last week when SB9—a bill that would give juveniles sentenced to life without parole in prison a chance to earn their freedom—narrowly passed through the California assembly. Under the provisions of SB9, eligible juvenile LWOPers will spend a minimum of 25 years in custody before they have a chance at parole.

Along with that quarter century time frame, offenders will have to claim genuine responsibility for their actions, obtain a GED, go to counseling and generally establish that they will reenter the world into a supportive community—and not the world that may have gotten them into trouble—in order to be eligible for a commutation of their sentence.

MORE: Kids Locked Up for Life Without Parole See One Glimmer of Hope. For It or Against It?

Social justice advocates in California had been clambering for SB9’s passage for years—only to see the bill fail repeatedly, often by only a single vote. The decision followed a recent Supreme Court ruling, which dictated that mandatory LWOP for juveniles is considered “cruel and unusual” punishment under the Eighth Amendment.

Even though the bill cleared a major hurdle toward becoming law by passing in the state assembly, its fate is still uncertain.

SB9 is currently sitting on the desk of California Governor Jerry Brown—waiting to be signed or vetoed.

Opponents of the bill are not sitting back and giving him time to make a reasoned decision. This past Tuesday, the LAPPL—the LAPD’s Union—sent its nearly 10,000 member-strong workforce an anti-SB9 form letter, encouraging them to sign and send it to Brown.

Among other highlights, the letter included nuggets like this one:

“This bill will allow murderers (juveniles at the time they committed their crimes and sentenced to life without parole) who killed police officers to ask the court for a resentence.”

Scary stuff.

There’s only one problem: The claim that this bill would free cop-killers is either misinformed or a lie. As California State Senator Leland Yee, sponsor of the bill, told TakePart last week: “Juveniles who kill police officers or firemen are explicitly excluded from this bill.”

You don’t have to take Yee’s word for it. The no-cop-killer exemption is right in the language of the bill for anyone who cares to look.

Called out for its chicanery by the Los Angeles social justice website WitnessLA, the union backed down from its original language—though it still opposes the bill. 

But who knows how many letters with the original language were sent to Brown’s office?

Brown is presumably smart enough to read the text of SB9 before he makes a decision one way or the other. So, odds are he, or someone on his staff, will catch the cop and fireman-kill exception and not fall for the union’s ploy.

SB9 opponents are resorting to dirty pool to shoot down the bill. That speaks volumes about the nature of their opposition. As we all know, however, political decisions aren’t always based on sound policy.

Here’s hoping Brown is clear-sighted enough to see the forest for the trees. 

Does it make any difference if the LAPD union's misstatement of fact is a mistake or deliberate? Think it over in COMMENTS.

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