Incarcerated juvenile advocates in Southern California welcomed the Aug. 20 Senate approval of the Fair Sentencing for Youth Act (SB9) and are asking people to call Governor Jerry Brown’s office, urging him to sign the bill into law.“We are very happy that finally the bill passed the Senate floor,” said Leslie Mendoza, a youth organizer with the Inglewood-based Youth Justice Coalition.“If Governor Brown signs this bill into law, it will have an impact not only in California, but in the country; other states could change their laws as well,” added Mendoza, whose 22-year-old brother Christian Arabinia was sentenced to life (with no date for parole) at the age of 17 for being present at a crime scene.The Coalition is a member of the collaborative project Fair Sentencing for Youth, spearheaded by Human Rights Watch, which has been advocating for the bill’s approval since it was first introduced at the state Legislature about four years ago (initially as SB399). The archdiocesan Office of Restorative Justice is also part of the project.The bill, by Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), was approved by the Senate 21-16 on Aug. 20, having been approved 41-34 by the Assembly on Aug. 16.SB9 will allow a prisoner who was under the age of 18 when sentenced to life without the possibility of parole (LWOP) to submit a petition for recall and resentencing to the sentencing court. “The passage of SB 9 speaks volumes for who we are as a society — that we believe kids deserve a second chance,” said Yee, who is a child psychologist. “The neuroscience is clear: Brain maturation continues well through adolescence and thus impulse control, planning, and critical thinking skills are not yet fully developed. SB9 reflects that science and provides the opportunity for compassion and rehabilitation that we should exercise with minors.”SB9, Yee maintained, “is not a get-out-of-jail-free card; it is an incredibly modest proposal that respects victims, international law, and the fact that children have a greater capacity for rehabilitation than adults.” According to Human Rights Watch, about 300 youth offenders were sentenced to LWOP in California, from a nationwide total of 2,500. The United States is the only country in the world where people under the age of 18 are sentenced to die in prison. In its March study, “When I die … they’ll send me home,” Human Rights Watch said that most of the juveniles sentenced to LWOP are either first-time offenders, or in many cases have not committed the murder, although they were at the crime scene. About 85 percent of these youth are minorities. "Finally, our legislators got it right with SB9,” said Jesuit Father Mike Kennedy, a noted juvenile advocate. “Finally, we understand giving up on youth is not the answer. Finally, after 25 years of cruel and harsh sentencing laws for kids, with SB9 we will give kids a second chance.”Father Kennedy, the founder of the Culver City-based Jesuit Restorative Justice Initiative and co-chaplain at Sylmar’s Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall, called this occasion “a moment of truth where healing can win over vengeance. Finally, we will see that when a crime is committed, the victims, those who have committed crimes, along with all those involved can be healed.“If the governor signs this bill, it will be a small step towards changing from a punitive to a restorative model of justice. Let us pray that the governor will sign this bill.” For more information about SB9, go to{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2012/0824/sb9/{/gallery}