A youth offender hearing is a parole suitability hearing for an inmate who committed his or her crime while under the age of 23. Inmates who are sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, inmates whose controlling offense is one for which the inmate was sentenced under the state's Three Strikes Law, and inmates who received a death sentence are not eligible for youth offender hearings. All of the general information about parole suitability hearings is applicable to youth offender hearings. For general information about parole suitability hearings, please click here.
The idea of a youth offender hearing is based on scientific evidence showing that parts of the brain involved in behavior control continue to mature through late adolescence and that adolescent brains are not yet fully mature until a person is in his or her mid-to-late 20s. Specifically, the area of the brain responsible for impulse control, understanding consequences, and other executive functions is not fully developed until that time.
In reviewing this scientific evidence, the United States Supreme Court and the California Supreme Court have recognized that the younger a person is, the more susceptible he or she is to negative influences and outside pressures, including peer pressure. But as they age, maturity can lead to reflection that is the foundation for remorse, renewal, and rehabilitation. Therefore, the California Legislature has determined that with few exceptions, offenders who commit crimes while under the age of 23 and who are sentenced to state prison are required to have a meaningful opportunity for parole during their natural life.
On January 1, 2014, Senate Bill 260 was enacted into law. The law created a special youth offender parole hearing for inmates who committed their controlling offense before reaching age 18. The intent of the law was to "establish a parole eligibility mechanism that provides a person serving a sentence for crimes that he or she committed as a juvenile the opportunity to obtain release when he or she has shown that he or she has been rehabilitated and gained maturity." It was also intended to "create a process by which growth and maturity of youthful offenders can be assessed and a meaningful opportunity for release established."
On January 1, 2016, Senate Bill 261 was enacted into law, which expanded the youth offender eligibility criteria to include inmates who were under the age of 23 when they committed their controlling offense.
A youth offender parole hearing is a hearing before the board for the purpose of reviewing the parole suitability of an inmate who was under 23 years of age at the time of his or her controlling offense. However, there are several other eligibility criteria that also must be met. Inmates who were under age 23 when they committed their controlling offense are not eligible for a youth offender hearing if they committed an additional crime involving malice aforethought (such as murder) after reaching age 23, or they committed an additional crime for which a new life sentence was imposed after reaching age 23. A youth offender's controlling offense is the single offense or enhancement for which any sentencing court imposed the longest term of imprisonment against the inmate. Youth offenders whose controlling offense is a sentence imposed under the state's Three Strikes Law are not eligible for a youth offender hearing.
For more information about an inmate's eligibility for a youth offender hearing, please refer to the informational chart, "How to Determine Whether an Inmate Qualifies as a Youth Offender."
Youth offenders sentenced to a fixed term (also called a determinate term) are eligible for a parole hearing during their 15th year of incarceration unless previously released. Youth offenders sentenced to life with the possibility of parole (also called an indeterminate term) and who received a life term of less than 25 years-to-life are eligible for a parole hearing during their 20th year of incarceration unless previously released or entitled to an earlier hearing. Finally, indeterminately sentenced inmates who received a life term of 25 years-to-life or longer are eligible for a parole hearing during the 25th year of incarceration unless previously released or entitled to an earlier hearing.
Youth offenders who became eligible for a youth offender hearing when the youth offender laws were enacted may not have a hearing until the end of 2017 or 2021, depending on their original sentence. Specifically, the board is required, by January 1, 2018, to complete all youth offender parole hearings for inmates who became eligible for a youth offender hearing on January 1, 2016 (when Senate Bill 261 went into effect) and who are sentenced to life with the possibility of parole. And the board must complete, by December 31, 2021, all youth offender parole hearings for inmates sentenced to fixed or determinate sentences who became eligible for a youth offender hearing on January 1, 2016 (when Senate Bill 261 went into effect). Determinately sentenced inmates who are scheduled to be released before December 31, 2021, will not receive a youth offender hearing.
The board is required at youth offender hearings to give great weight to factors specific to youth offenders. For example, the board is required to give great weight to the diminished culpability of juveniles as compared to adults, the hallmark features of youth, and any subsequent growth and increased maturity of the inmate. Moreover, if the hearing panel relies on a risk assessment in assessing a youth offender's growth and maturity, the risk assessment must also take into consideration these factors. This is in addition to the factors the board must consider at regular, non-youth offender parole hearings. For more information about parole suitability hearings in general, click here. [Link to Parole Suitability Hearings]
If an inmate is granted parole at a youth offender hearing, the inmate will be eligible for release immediately after the decision granting him or her parole is final (which can take up to five months). The decision granting the inmate parole is subject to the board's decision review process and the Governor's review process. In addition, some youth offenders may have to serve additional time after their grant is final, if they were convicted of additional crimes committed while in prison. If an inmate is denied parole at a youth offender hearing, he or she will be denied parole for 15, 10, 7, 5, or 3 years. If you have additional questions about youth offender hearings, please write or call the board at:
Board of Parole Hearings
Post Office Box 4036
Sacramento, CA 95812-4036
Victims who would like to request notice and an opportunity to attend an inmate's parole suitability hearing or who would like to request notice of an inmate's release must register with CDCR's Office of Victim and Survivor Rights and Services. For further information, please visit CDCR's Office of Victim and Survivor Rights and Services website or call toll-free 1-877-256-6877.
Board of Parole Hearings
Post Office Box 4036
Sacramento, CA 95812-4036