To the Governor of California

  • Support the abolition of the sentence of life without parole for youth under the age of 18.
  • Where youth are sentenced to prison terms, ensure meaningful opportunities for rehabilitation, education, and vocational training.
  • Periodically assess the eligibility of youth offenders to parole.

To the California State Legislature

  • Enact legislation abolishing the sentence of life without parole for youth who were under the age of 18 when they committed their crime.
  • Enact legislation that creates meaningful opportunities for rehabilitation, education, and vocational training for people who are sentenced to life terms.

To State and County Officials

  • Ensure indigent juvenile defendants facing life without parole receive adequate legal representation that meets their specific needs.

To State Judges

  • Refuse to impose the sentence of life without parole on youth who committed their crime under the age of 18 on the grounds that California’s law violates international law.

To California District Attorneys

  • Support abolishment of the sentence of life without parole for juveniles in California law.
  • Exercise the discretion provided under California law to recommend sentences other than life without parole for juveniles.

To Defense Attorneys

  • Ensure that defendants and their families understand the procedures, defense strategies, and seriousness of the charges, including the possible sentence of life without parole, so that they can fully exercise their rights.
  • Vigorously defend the rights of juvenile clients in adult court at all stages of the case, including trial plea bargaining and the sentencing phases.

Sara K.

Text Box: 
Sara K. was 15 in this photo and 16 at the time of her crime. 
© 2008 Private.
Sara was raised by her mother who was addicted to drugs
and abusive. She met her father only three times in her life.

Starting at age nine, Sara suffered from severe depression
for which she was hospitalized several times. She
attempted suicide on multiple occasions. At age 11, Sara
met "G.G.," a 31-year-old man. Soon after, G.G.
sexually assaulted Sara and began grooming her to become a prostitute. At age 13, Sara began working as a prostitute
for G.G. She continued being sexually assaulted by him
and being used as a prostitute until just after she turned 16,
when she robbed and killed him.

Sara had never been arrested before. Sara's boyfriend's friend who was much older and a rival of G.G. was involved in the murder but was never prosecuted,
she said. A report to the court confirms that she had a much older male cooffender
and states that she was highly vulnerable to exploitation by him.

Sara was tried as an adult and sentenced to the rest of her life in prison, even
though the California Youth Authority (CYA), which is responsible for making
pre-sentencing assessments, determined that she was amenable to the training
and treatment offered in the juvenile system. In its evaluation of Sara, CYA
concluded that Sara was motivated to make positive changes in her life and
expressed a desire to participate in rehabilitative programming. A psychiatric
evaluation concluded that she was treatable.

In 2007, Sara turned 29. Comparing herself to the 16-year-old she was 13 years
ago, she said, "The way I think now is very different than the way I thought
then." In prison, she said, she does whatever she can to keep up her hope. "I
survive in here spiritually. I can't give up. I read. I do whatever I can to be a
better person."

—Human Rights Watch interview with Sara K.,
serving life without parole in California, April 6, 2007