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The Juvenile Offender Parole Act would allow a second chance at life

“I have spent the last 20 years, because of incarceration, facing up to this tragedy, believing in what is the central point of this legislation before you: Youth are not beyond change and they have redemptive qualities, which will allow them to become capable of becoming mature adults who are productive contributors to society.”

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Rhode Island State Representative Julie Casimiro (Democrat, District 31, North Kingstown, Exeter) is the sponsor of the The Juvenile Offender Parole Act, H5144, which upon passage would “make minors who were sentenced as adults, eligible for parole after serving 15 years of a sentence. This act would apply to those prisoners whose offenses were committed on or after January 1, 1991.”

The bill was heard in the House Committee on Judiciary Wednesday evening, hearing nearly 90 minutes of testimony, almost all of it in favor of the legislation. The bill has been before the General Assembly many times over the last five years, and has never passed.

“There’s somebody who wanted to testify tonight and he couldn’t testify because he’s incarcerated,” said Representative Casimiro towards the end of her testimony. “And I hope that you’ll indulge me while I read his testimony to you. It’s from a gentleman I met a few years ago when he was the valedictorian of the gang step-down program at medium security at our ACI. His name is Mario Monteiro.”

Here’s the video, and a transcript of the sometimes emotional testimony.

“Good evening members of the committee. My name is Mario Montero, and I am someone who would benefit from the passage of this legislation. I am 37 years old and because of a crime that I committed when I was 17, I am currently serving a mandatory consecutive double life sentence. I was the first juvenile in Rhode Island to be sentenced under a newly established statute that mandated consecutive life sentences after being convicted for first degree murder if a firearm was involved. My sentence reflects a mandatory statute that applies regardless of age, criminal history or other mitigating factors that may have resulted in a lesser sentence.
“The legislation before you today, House bill 5144, The Juvenile Offender Parole Act, is intended to address lengthy, mandatory sentences given to our children under the age of 18 years old at the time of their crime. This bill is in accordance with the US Supreme court decisions and research about adolescent brain development that states, among many things, [that] most juveniles who engage in illegal activities “do not develop into chronic offenders with deep rooted criminal criminogenic behaviors in adulthood” as quoted by Roper v Simmons. Passage of House bill 5144 does not open the doors for everyone. It is not a get out of jail free card. This legislation excludes the most serious crimes and applies to those individuals who committed crimes as juveniles from the year 2001 on.
“I would like to take a minute to tell you about myself as a child growing up and acknowledge the actions that led to my incarceration. As a child, I had moved through the system of multiple and abusive group homes and by the age of nine, both my parents were deceased. Over the next seven years, at the hands of my legal guardian, I endured many forms of physical and emotional abuse. By the age of 12, it was common for my stepmother to involve me in her criminal lifestyle of drug use, packaging drugs, and making deliveries. Refusing her demands ended in beatings. Finally, at the age of 16, I took control and decided to escape this life, which was devoid of any love, support, or guidance. I foolishly turned to the streets and eventually a gang, believing it was a solution to athe toxic environment that was my home. I was blinded by impulsiveness and an inability to comprehend the lifelong consequences that this choice would have. Without ever having been in trouble before, I managed, in the span of one year, to throw my life away and take away the life Mr Rom Peov. I understand the reality that no number of apologies or good deeds will atone for my actions. I have also thought about the amount of pain and heartache that I have caused along with the lasting effects that it has on his family, the community, and my own family. I will live with this for the rest of my life and forever be sorry and remorseful.
“I have spent the last 20 years, because of incarceration, facing up to this tragedy, believing in what is the central point of this legislation before you: Youth are not beyond change and they have redemptive qualities, which will allow them to become capable of becoming mature adults who are productive contributors to society. During my time incarcerated, I have continuously pursued a path that would allow me the opportunity to one day prove that change is possible nd I do possess the ability to realize my full potential. I have been successful in my pursuit of education, striving for an Associates Degree, and I’m proud to have completed the highly regarded FRG gang renunciation step-down program. I have also participated in mentoring youth at the ACI and currently assist with the training of service dogs for veterans. I have also developed and maintained strong relationships with family and friends that continue to inspire me. These, and other accomplishments over the years, have allowed me to demonstrate the potential that the Juvenile Offender Parole Act speaks to.
“I have a sense of pride and purpose and the desire to do something good. Passage of this legislation will allow for youthful offenders to prove to the parole board that they have been rehabilitated and can contribute productively to society. Members of this committee. I humbly ask that you pass this bill H5144 and join over two dozen other States, including Massachusetts and Connecticut, who have implemented reforms to juvenile sentencing. I ask that tonight you help add Rhode Island to that list. Thank you for your time and consideration in allowing my testimony to be read.”

See also:

Here’s the entire House Judiciary hearing on H5144, The Juvenile Offender Parole Act:

About the Author

Steve Ahlquist is Uprise RI's co-founder and lead reporter. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.

atomicsteve@gmail.com