Recently legislation was introduced in the Texas House and Senate in the form of HB 1274 and SB 556, the "Second Look" legislation that would have lowered the mandatory minimum term before parole eligibility for felony capital offenders sentenced before their 17th birthday. The bill also would have required the Texas parole board to consider mitigating factors during the parole hearing. (For example: the fact that the inmate was a youth during the commission of the crime, family environment, trauma history, capacity for rehabilitation, etc.)
Although these bills had substantial bi-partisan support, they failed to pass this session. The juvenile advocates who support and fight for this legislation will be back next session to present the bills again and we would like to draw attention to some of the individuals who this legislation would have positively impacted.
Jermaine Hicks, tdcj 760638, from San Antonio, was certified as an adult at age 15 and sentenced to life in prison for capital murder. Due to a constitutional violation in his statement, the actual killer in this case, who was 17 years old at the time, was sentenced to 40 years and has been out of prison for 3 years, so the person who committed this crime is free while Jermaine remains in prison. Is this justice? Sherrard Williams also from San Antonio, tdcj 797653, is another juvenile offender who was certified as an adult and sentenced to life in prison under the Law of Parties, although he hasn't killed anyone. Deon Williams was 16 and sentenced under the same scenario.
In Texas, the are hundreds of these kids who were certified as adults and sentenced during the nineties in the midst of the crack era and the mythical "Super Predator" scare. Scores of youth were locked up for life. This myth was later debunked and crime rates actually fell, but the damage was done and unless the law changes, many of these juveniles will die in prison for crimes that they participated in as children but did not commit
Recent research of the human brain has shown us that the adolescent brain does not fully develop until a person is well into their twenties and brain mechanisms related to reasoning, judgement, risk taking and impulsiveness are some of the last to develop. These factors should be taken into consideration for these juvenile offenders and these harsh sentences should be revisited.
We are hoping to draw attention to some of the individual stories of these juvenile offenders and raise awareness for this issue.