Senate panel approves 'Second Chance' bill - Albuquerque Journal

Senate panel approves ‘Second Chance’ bill

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – After a similar bill came up just short a year ago, legislation that would ensure juvenile offenders convicted of first-degree murder get a parole hearing after spending more than a decade behind bars is moving forward at the Roundhouse.

After an emotional hearing that included testimony both from crime victims and family members of inmates, the Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee voted 5-1 on Friday to approve the measure.

“What matters to me about this is children have an enormous capacity to change,” said Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, D-Albuquerque, who is the bill’s primary sponsor and said she herself has been a crime victim.

The so-called “Second Chance” bill, Senate Bill 43, was recently added by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to the agenda of the 30-day session that started Jan. 18.

Specifically, it would stipulate that youthful violent offenders sentenced as adults would be entitled to a parole hearing after 15 years behind bars.

It would be up to a parole board to decide whether to release such an inmate from custody, but, if parole were to be denied, such offenders would be eligible for another parole hearing every five subsequent years.

Critics of the bill, including Marcus Montoya, district attorney for the Taos-based 8th Judicial District, expressed concern that a parole hearing after 15 years might be too soon for family members of crime victims.

“These defendants are not in jail for … possession type of offenses,” Montoya said.

Alexis Molina, who was injured in a 2017 Clovis library shooting, also urged lawmakers to reject the legislation.

“This bill, to be completely honest, feels like the victims do not matter,” said Molina, who added she still has a bullet in her leg from the shooting that left two people dead, and herself and three others injured.

However, supporters say the legislation would provide young offenders with incentive to change, demonstrate good behavior in prison and turn their lives around.

Jessica Brown, wife of Michael Brown, who has spent two-thirds of his life in prison for the stabbing deaths of his grandparents when he was 16, said sentences of life in prison without the possibility of parole are costly to taxpayers and don’t allow for rehabilitation.

If this year’s measure is approved, about 40 inmates would become eligible for parole upon its effective date, according to a legislative analysis of the bill.

The bill now advances to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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