Those were the first words out of Teresa Lozano’s mouth when she learned that Governor Jerry Brown had signed the Fair Sentencing Youth Act (SB9) into law Sept. 30. Arturo Bracamontes said he feels “bien contento” (very happy). “Very happy that we know now that one day our son will have a chance of being released; before there wasn’t any possibility.”Both Lozano and Bracamontes have children serving life without parole (LWOP) for crimes committed as juveniles, sentences that could be reduced under SB9, sponsored by Senator (and child psychologist) Leland Yee (D-San Francisco).SB9 allows resentencing of prisoners sentenced to life without parole after they have served at least 15 years. The sentence could be reduced to 25 years to life depending on certain criteria, including show of remorse, steps taken towards rehabilitation, proof that an adult was present when the crime was committed, and proof that the youth was not the murderer.About 309 prisoners in California (2,570 in the country) are among those covered under the new law, including Elizabeth Lozano and Christian Bracamontes, who were denied the chance to have a release date for a crime they did not commit, although they were present at the crime scene while juveniles. Now both in their 30s, they have exhibited good behavior, currently mentoring younger prisoners.The proposal was “the baby” of a statewide 10-member group of restorative justice advocates, including Elizabeth Calvin, children’s rights senior advocate for Human Rights Watch, and Javier Stauring, co-director of the archdiocesan Office of Restorative Justice. Both have been involved in juvenile justice and prison ministry, respectively, for more than 20 years.“It was a painful process to decide which legislation to focus on, and finally we decided on the juveniles’ life without parole sentencing,” Stauring told The Tidings.There are other extreme sentences to youth that need to be examined, but LWOP was probably the “most extreme and heartbreaking.”“We thought its approval would be a quick process,” Stauring continued. “We never thought it would take six years, but then we realized this was much more than a piece of legislation.”The advocates said the process helped educate the community about the juvenile justice system and it also empowered and impacted victims and offenders alike, “bringing hope for people with no hope.”Stauring said the effort brought families together through the Healing Dialogues in Action project, where families of victims and offenders share stories “identifying with each other in their pain.”“This is really a historical event, because much more has happened in addition [to the approval of the bill],” said Stauring, “and the rest of the country will start looking at California, not just for this law, but all the laws affecting juveniles,” he said minutes before starting an all-day planning meeting with chaplains who minister to juveniles.“We’re just thrilled,” said Calvin, noting that one of the “beautiful” aspects of the effort was the diversity of the people involved during all the process.The initial group of 10 (now the executive committee) was enlarged with the involvement of faith-based representatives, former law enforcement officers, law school students and families of offenders and victims.“Catholics have been such a significant partner, totally reliable in every step of the way,” said Calvin, who is not Catholic. “The U.S. bishops were incredibly there on this issue, as well as individuals and local parishes. It is evident that this kind of response comes from a deep place of commitment.”She thinks it was the “lack of understanding of juveniles” that delayed the approval and signing of the bill.“Kids are different than adults and we’re still stuck in the old perspective that the only way for public safety is to incarcerate people,” Calvin said. “But legislators are now understanding that it’s no longer about Republicans and Democrats.” She cited the recent endorsement of SB9 by Republicans Newt Gingrich and Pat Dolan, former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and leader of the California State Assembly, respectively.“This is a great step forward on looking why people do what they do; one step closer to a more fair justice system,” said Heidi Rummel, co-director of the University of Southern California’s 30-year-old Post-conviction Justice Project, where law students review potential cases for resentencing of prisoners sentenced to LWOP. Lozano’s is among the 12 cases of LWOPers currently handled by the students under Rummel’s supervision.“It’s not that we’re justifying the juveniles for committing terrible crimes, but most of them did it under very particular and difficult life circumstances,” said Rummel. “They shouldn’t be thrown away and should be given a chance to change.”The Bracamontes family has experienced such a transformation.“We thought our son would die in prison although he didn’t kill anyone,” said Arturo Bracamontes, after sharing how the event changed the life of his whole family who struggled to understand the cruel sentence. “This is a miracle,” he said. “It was costly because we went to Sacramento many times and waited many years, but it was worth it. I thank God for making it happen.”For more information, call the Office of Restorative Justice, (213) 438-4820, or email [email protected] For more information about Fair Sentencing for Youth, visit www.fairsentencingforyouth.org.Photos: see Tidings 10-05:SB9-1:HISTORIC --- Restorative justice advocates called the signing of SB9 into law a historical event that gives juveniles sentenced to life without parole a chance to show they can change. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), a child psychologist who sustains that brain maturation, impulse control, planning and critical thinking are not yet fully developed in adolescents.JESUIT RESTORATIVE JUSTICE INITIATIVE