South Dakota has banned the practice of sentencing children to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Gov. Dennis Daugaard signed SB 140 sponsored by Sen. Craig Tieszen, into law on Wednesday. In making this change, South Dakota joins states such as Wyoming, Nevada and West Virginia in implementing less punitive accountability measures for children.

“Every year I try to bring at least one bill that I truly believe in while knowing it will be a struggle,” said Sen. Tieszen. “I believe that children, even children who commit terrible crimes, can and do change. And, I believe they deserve a chance to demonstrate that change and become productive citizens. In the end, I gathered a very diverse set of legislators from across the political spectrum and passed the bill with solid margins.”

SB 140 eliminates all life sentences for people who were younger than 18 at the time of their crimes. Fifteen states now ban life-without-parole sentences for children.

“South Dakota is helping to lead important change in the ways that we hold our children accountable,” said Jody Kent Lavy, director and national coordinator at the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth. “Teenagers who commit serious crimes will now have an opportunity after several years to demonstrate that they have been rehabilitated and are ready to re-enter society. Jurisprudence and adolescent development research document that appropriate sentences consider children’s age at the time of a crime, the trauma they have experienced and their capacity for change.”

The U.S. Supreme Court, drawing in part on adolescent development research, has said that children are “constitutionally different” from adults and should not be subject to our country’s harshest penalties.

The CFSY, which advocates for age-appropriate, trauma-informed accountability for children, worked with advocates, legislators and others in South Dakota to provide education and information about the need for change in juvenile sentencing laws and practices.

“The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth provided important testimony and support,” said Sen. Tieszen. “As important as the sentencing reform is, I think it is equally valuable that legislators had the opportunity to think differently about children’s capacity for change. The Campaign provided that important education and perspective.”

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