Bill would disallow juveniles being sentenced to life without possibility of parole

Stephanie Rubio

When Stephanie Rubio was eight her 14 year-old brother was tried as an adult for murder. Her brother will not get parole because “not only is he an immigrant, but his first couple of years incarcerated he was not the best.”

Rubio’s brother is now 30. Rubio says her, “brother’s mentality has aged drastically since the age of 14. He states constantly that he is very regretful of what he’s done.” Knowing what he knows now, her brother would have avoided the situation he involved himself in.

“He’s definitely bettered himself. He’s taken a huge turn. His ways of thinking have changed. He’s really become a better person in general,” said Rubio.

If released, Rubio’s brother hopes to work with children in danger of making his mistakes. These kids, said Rubio, “have more potential than they think.”

Dee Jensen

Mario Monteiro is in his early thirties, said his aunt, Dee Jensen. He has already spent more than half his life behind bars. He lost his mother when he was ten, his father when he was eleven. Monteiro was left in the “care” of a friend of his father, who exposed the boy to years of physical abuse and neglect.

“He was forced to learn how to package drugs, cut them up, deliver them, how to hold them in his hand, hold it under his tongue, at the ages of 11, 12 and 13 years old,” Jensen told the House Judiciary Committee. “If he didn’t comply, if he didn’t do what they asked him to do, he was beat with a plastic baseball bat.”

In school Monteiro joined a gang, and two years later he was convicted of murder. “He murdered and innocent bystander who was sitting on a porch,” said Jensen. “By waving a gun around and acting like a crazy gang thug, 16 year-old person.”

In his 16 years of prison, Monteiro has nearly completed his associate’s degree. He reads constantly.

“Mario and people like him deserve to have the hope that someday they will have an adult life in society,” said Jensen. “This bill will allow him to be assessed by the skillful people on the parole board at the ACI, as any other inmate, to determine whether or not he has been rehabilitated.”

The bill Jensen and Rubio were testifying in favor of is H7596, which “would provide that prisoners who committed offenses prior to age 18 and were sentenced as adults would be eligible for parole after completing 15 years of their sentence. This act would not lengthen their parole eligibility should the prisoner be eligible for parole earlier than 15 years.”

The legislation was introduced by Representative Marcia Ranglin-Vassell (Democrat, District 5, Providence), who called the bill “uncomfortable” but “necessary.” She said she thinks about six people would be impacted if this legislation were to pass.

“This piece of legislation is so important,” Ranglin-Vassell told the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday evening. “Because giving a young person who has committed a heinous crime [a sentence of] being put in prison with no possibility of parole, I think that is essentially a death sentence.

“Mr Chairman, I do believe in the power of redemption. I think people have the potential to change. I think a juvenile who has completed 15 years, should be given an opportunity for [parole].”

Assistant Rhode Island Attorney General Joee Lindbeck explained that the rules about trying juveniles as adults and keeping them in prison for life were adopted after the murders committed by Craig Price, a juvenile serial killer from Warwick, Rhode Island. “We think that repealing acts like this, we’d just be waiting for the next horrific crime to happen.”

Lindbeck estimates that eight people would be affected by this legislation. “Most of those eight involve murder, and the other involves vicious child molestation, of a very young child” said Lindbeck.

“There is nothing unique about this bill,” said Steven Brown, executive director of the ACLU of Rhode Island. “There are now more than 20 states that have passed legislation like this recognizing that juveniles are different, they should be treated differently. They should not spend their whole lives in prison unless they at least have the opportunity to make the case that they should be paroled. And that’s all this bill does… It just provides a juvenile offender the opportunity, after 15 years, to appear before the parole board.”

My testimony, in which I make the case that just as Rhode Island led the way in doing away with capital punishment, so should we not sentence juveniles to life with out possibility of parole. We are, I maintained, a compassionate state.

Randall Rose also spoke in favor of the legislation.


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About Steve Ahlquist 492 Articles
Steve Ahlquist is a frontline reporter in Rhode Island. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for half a decade. Uprise RI is his new project, and he's doing all he can to make it essential reading. atomicsteve@gmail.com

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