There are crimes so terrible, so ghastly that their perpetrators deserve to be locked up and the key thrown away. But when those perpetrators are kids, 13 or 15 years old, they deserve different treatment.
The U.S. Supreme Court has said so, and California lawmakers recently passed two laws that do just that. Now California's criminal justice system needs to move more quickly to enforce these laws.
It will require the courts, the Board of Parole Hearings and others in the justice system to change their frame of mind and not just routinely deny hearing these cases.
What makes the crimes of youngsters different from adults? Children 10, 12, 15 or even 17 years old don't have the same brains as a mature adult. Their prefrontal cortex -- the area responsible for impulse, cognitive control and decision-making -- isn't fully formed. Children and teenagers are impressionable and more susceptible to peer pressure. But they also have a greater chance to reform.
That was made clear in the case of Sara Kruzan, 35, who was sentenced to life without parole for killing her pimp in a Riverside hotel when she was 16 years old. Gov. Jerry Brown allowed the request for her release by the state parole board. She walked out of prison recently after nearly 20 years inside.
Kruzan was the poster child for a bill that took effect this year by California Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, giving youth lifers without the possibility of parole the opportunity to ask a judge for a reduced sentence after serving 15 years.
Another bill by state Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, passed this year would allow thousands of youths sentenced to life as adults the opportunity to be heard before a parole board after serving 25 years in most cases.
Human Rights Watch estimates that there are 350 other youth offenders who qualify to petition for a new sentencing hearing under Yee's legislation and about 2,700 more lifers who will qualify under Hancock's.
Law schools are working on getting the cases into courts and in front of parole boards and judges. Those efforts will need to be sustained because the caseload is not likely to ebb soon.
Kruzan technically didn't get freed because of the law; the move came after former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger reduced her sentence in 2011.
But she shouldn't be the only child offender who, after serving lengthy time, is given the chance to redeem herself.
Like many children, she was hurt by the very adults who were supposed to help her. She is remorseful and has worked to become a better person. Admittedly, not all young offenders are as sympathetic as Kruzan, but they do deserve a chance to have their case reviewed.