Hawaii has abolished the practice of sentencing children to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The legislature has approved HB 2116 CD1 and sent it to Gov. Neil Abercrombie for his signature. Gov. Abercrombie signed the measure into law on July 2.

“In Hawaii, family is the most important part of life,” said Kauai County Prosecuting Attorney Justin Kollar.  “I am proud of our legislators for acknowledging that the minds of children are different from those of adults in very specific ways.  Certainly, when children commit serious crimes, we in law enforcement must respond and protect the community; however, putting a child in prison and throwing away the key is not a humane or cost-effective solution to this problem.”

Legislators note in the bill that “children are constitutionally different from adults and that these differences must be taken into account when children are sentenced.” The bill further states that “children are more vulnerable to negative influences and outside pressures, including from family and peers, they have limited control over their own environment, and they may lack the ability to extricate themselves from horrific, crime-producing settings.”

The bill notes that children typically age out of criminal behavior.  “Youthfulness both lessens a juvenile’s moral culpability and enhances the prospect that, as the youth matures into an adult and neurological development occurs, the individual can become a contributing member of society.”

“In passing this legislation, Hawaii legislators became part of a growing number of policymakers and opinion leaders ranging from President Jimmy Carter to former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, and national organizations such as the Boy Scouts, corrections organizations and faith bodies who have called for reform in the ways that we hold children accountable for serious crimes,” said Jody Kent Lavy, director and national coordinator at the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth. “These lawmakers have demonstrated that we can hold children accountable for the harm they have caused without sentencing them to die in prison. We call on Gov. Abercrombie to act quickly to sign this important legislation.”

Under HB 2116 CD1, children who are convicted of first-degree murder will be sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole. Under existing Hawaii law, once individuals become eligible for parole, they are entitled to review every 12 months. They are also entitled to counsel and there is a presumption in favor of parole if they have been ‘assessed’ as having a low likelihood of reoffending. The parole hearing also must be transcribed and archived, and the paroling authority must state its reasons for granting or denying parole.”

Prosecutors in Hawaii supported the passage of the bill.

The United States is the only country in the world that imposes this sentence upon our children.

Read the blog post from the Hawaii House of Representatives