SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — California is joining 19 other states in ending life sentences for children and teens.
It’s just one of several new laws attempting to change the way the state’s justice system treats juveniles.
“I would run away, get another warrant, go on the run. Go back and forth,” said Michael Rizo.
He was stuck in a revolving door. Rizo spent a decade of his life, in and out of juvenile hall for theft. But he wanted the cycle to stop.
“It’s just, talking to your mom through a window when you want to hold your mom, that tears you apart,” he said.
He was 20 when he finally got out.
But instead of hitting the streets, Rizo found himself lobbying for change at the state legislature, alongside state Sen. Holly Mitchell (D- Los Angeles).
“The young people who came and testified in committee, their stories were no different from yours or mine. They found themselves in the foster system. Some of them have parents in the criminal justice system,” she said.
Mitchell pushed for changes to the system, based on studies showing that teens brains have not yet fully matured.
“We’re clear that these kids at those critical teenage years are not adults. And so even those who get caught up in the justice system—we have to view with that same lens,” she said.
Now, new state laws will give them more opportunities and fewer punishments.
One law says anyone sentenced to life as a minor will become eligible for a parole hearing after serving 25 years. That means 300 juvenile lifers have a shot.
Another law allows the courts to seal some juvenile records and limit fees that local jurisdictions charge families with kids behind bars. That’s one that hurt Rizo’s already financially strapped family.
But he says he’s making up for it by changing his life. And helping others escape the system.
“People deserve second chances,” he said.
But not everyone agrees.
California’s district attorneys are at odds with the reforms.
They can no longer seek juvenile life without parole.
The California District Attorney’s Association hasn’t yet responded to our request for comment on the story.