Juvenile sentencing reform advocates are frustrated with what they see as the ineffectiveness of the juvenile clemency board, the program created by Gov. Bill Ritter to potentially reduce or absolve the sentences of juvenile offenders. Meanwhile, supporters of the program say the board is properly serving its function.
When Ritter established the juvenile clemency board two years ago, many juvenile sentencing reform advocates applauded the move. Lawmakers had changed the law in Colorado in 2006 so that inmates who committed crimes as juveniles but were sentenced as adults could be eligible for parole after 40 years in prison. But the new law was not retroactive, leaving 45 Colorado inmates with their original lengthy sentences and most of them without the possibility of parole.
Both sides of the issue debated the case Monday on Colorado Matters, a show on Colorado Public Radio. Mary Ellen Johnson of the Pendulum Foundation, a Colorado non-profit that serves juveniles incarcerated in the adult prison system, said she thought the board, which passes on its recommendation to Ritter who then has the final say, would have granted clemency by now because she believes there have been several good candidates.
One of those candidates who applied and was denied clemency is Trevor Jones. According to Johnson, Jones — who was sentenced for a supposed accidental 1996 shooting that occurred when he was 17 years old — has had a near-perfect record while serving his sentence.
“What more could a candidate do?” Johnson asked on the radio program.
Dietrick Mitchell has also had his case reviewed and denied by the clemency board. According to his mother, who appeared on Colorado Matters, Mitchell was 16 years old when he was in a hit-and-run accident that killed a 14-year-old boy. Mitchell, who was drunk when the hit-and-run occurred, was sentenced at the time to life without parole, though his sentence was reduced to 40 years because of an error discovered after sentencing.