California: Uniting to End Life Without Parole for Youth

By Daniel Gutman

Michelle Murray traveled nearly 400 miles – from Los Angeles to Sacramento – on a one day trip late last month to speak with her elected officials about the importance of Senate Bill 9. The California Assembly was only days away from voting on SB 9, a bill to end life without parole prison sentences for youth in California.

Michelle wasn’t alone on her trip. With her were other loved ones of people serving and family members who have fallen victim to violence. Together, along with a diverse coalition of faith leaders, students, and advocates, these families were united in their call for fair and just sentencing of youth.

Across the United States, more than 2,600 people have been condemned to prison for the rest of their lives, with no hope of ever being released, for crimes committed as youth. Nearly 300 of these individuals, including Michelle’s brother, are in prisons across California.
In the three weeks that I spent in Sacramento leading up to the vote on SB 9, I had the privilege of working alongside fierce advocates like Michelle. I was inspired by their dedication and unified message throughout the campaign, even during times of uncertainty. This unity was especially apparent during the final stretch before the vote as faith leaders held a day of prayer and action, youth from Los Angeles took an overnight bus to Sacramento to speak with their elected officials, and people from around the state and nation literally jammed legislators’ phone lines with calls of support.

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