Edel Gonzalez, expected to die in a California prison for the crime he committed at 16, was released yesterday at 39, making him one of the first prisoners sentenced as a juvenile to be released since state legislators approved a landmark reform in 2012 that gave inmates like him the chance to earn parole, says the Los Angeles Times. For his role in the “savage, brutal and senseless” carjacking that ended in murder, an Orange County judge in 1993 sentenced Gonzalez, who wasn’t the triggerman, to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Gonzalez’s release is part of a national trend in rethinking life sentences for juvenile offenders. It is an acknowledgment that there is a developmental gap between juveniles and adults. In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court abolished the death penalty for minors, and in 2012, the court ruled that judges must consider a juvenile’s immaturity and capacity for change as factors in sentencing. In California, about 310 prisoners are serving life prison sentences without the possibility of parole for crimes they committed before they turned 18. Nationwide, about 2,500 prisoners are serving life-without-parole sentences for crimes they committed as juveniles, said James Ross of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth.