Representatives Jason Dawkins (D-Philadelphia) and Seth Grove (R-York) Monday announced they will reintroduce a bipartisan resolution-- House Resolution 915 from last session-- to establish a task force on juvenile life sentences.
The resolution did not get out of the House Judiciary Committee last session.
"With the U.S. Supreme Court ruling a life sentence for juveniles is cruel and unusual punishment, we as a state must develop policies to address it,” said Rep. Grove. “I appreciate Representative Dawkins' leadership on this issue and look forward to working with him on ensuring we as a state can develop policies which conform to the court’s rulings."
"Pennsylvania faces a greater challenge than most states in complying with the Supreme Court's rulings, since our state is home to nearly 500 of the nation’s 2,000 'juvenile lifers.'” said Rep. Dawkins. “I thank Representative Grove for his commitment to working in a bipartisan way on this vital criminal justice issue."
In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Miller v. Alabama that mandatory life without parole sentences for people who were under 18 at the time of the offense are unconstitutional, and in January 2016, the court ruled in Montgomery v. Louisiana that its decision in Miller must be applied retroactively.
The proposed task force would undertake a thorough and comprehensive review of laws, court decisions, policies and procedures. The lawmakers said this would ensure an efficient appeals and post-conviction relief process that would provide just and fair sentences that are sufficient both to protect public safety and promote rehabilitation.
Under the resolution, the task force would meet to develop recommendations regarding how best to handle appeals and applications for post-conviction relief from the hundreds of people in Pennsylvania sentenced to mandatory life without parole when they were under 18.
The task force would be comprised of 11 experts who are knowledgeable and experienced in issues relating to criminal appeals, post-conviction relief and the appropriate sentencing of youth offenders.
Seven members would be appointed by the House, Senate and governor, while the remaining four would be representatives from the Department of Corrections, the Board of Probation and Parole, the Sentencing Commission and the Office of Victim Advocate.
The resolution would require the task force to make a final report within 90 days of its first meeting.Rep. Dawkins is also committed to continuing to pursue broader judicial reform regarding life sentencing.