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Senate to vote on juvenile sentences bill

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – A bill that would reform the way children are sentenced in New Mexico garnered opposition from victims who said repeated parole board hearings would re-traumatize them.

The Juvenile Life Sentences Without Parole bill, sponsored by Rep. Dayan Hochman-Vigil and Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, both Albuquerque Democrats, passed the Senate Judiciary Committee Friday evening, but with an amendment proposed to ease the burden on victims.

Only Senate Minority Leader Greg Baca, R-Belen, voted against the bill. The legislation, Senate Bill 247, is now headed to the Senate floor for a vote. If passed, it will head to the House.

The bill would allow people sentenced as juveniles to get their case reviewed after 15 years and then have parole board hearings every two years until released. Before the amendment, the crime victims would have to be notified and involved in each parole board hearing. Most crime victims who testified said this would re-traumatize them.

Nathan Spulak spoke in opposition of the bill and said his sister was attacked and left for dead by a juvenile offender. He said his family wouldn’t be able to move on from the crime if they’re forced to relive the trauma every two years at a parole board hearing.

Among the crime victims who spoke in opposition of the bill were survivors of the 2017 Clovis Library shooting. Nathaniel Jouett was 16 years old when he killed two people and seriously wounded four others, according to previous news reports.

An amendment would allow crime victims to opt-out of these parole hearings. If they changed their mind later, they could opt back in.

But crime victims weren’t the only ones opposed to the legislation.

The New Mexico Attorney General’s Office voiced its opposition to the two-year parole provision of the bill, also mentioning the burden it has on victims.

Matt Baca, chief counsel for the office, said the office has heard an outcry from crime victims against the bill. He said the office isn’t against the intent of the bill, but can’t support the frequency of the parole hearings and the toll it takes on crime victims.

First Judicial District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies said she supports the bill and it’s based on the recognition that young people have the capacity to change. She said she accepts the science that juvenile offenders are unable to asses the risks and consequences before committing a crime. Young people can also change and be rehabilitated, she said.

Carissa McGee was one of those people. At the age of 16, McGee was sentenced as an adult to 21 years in prison for two counts of attempted murder.

After eight years in prison, she said she was a changed woman. She was given a second chance at a parole board hearing and has now successfully completed her probation and parole.

She said she’s in the process of earning a graduate degree, has a full-time job and started a nonprofit and wrote a book about her experience. She said all this was possible due to the second chance the court system gave her.

She was a violent felon convicted as a child, she said, and proof that redemption is possible.