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Nevada delegation should support judicial reform bill

Last legislative session, we worked together in the Nevada Assembly to pass a law that has transformed the ways that we hold children accountable for the harm they have caused.

Assembly Bill 267 ensures that children sentenced to adult prison in Nevada have review opportunities no later than 20 years after they begin their sentences. Now, individuals told as children that they would die in prison can imagine a second chance.

But review isn’t a guarantee of release. Instead, it recognizes that children possess a unique capacity to grow and change and that we can never know who a child will become when he or she reaches adulthood.

As a result of this legislation, Nevada has emerged as a national leader, with states throughout the country looking to us for guidance about how they, too, can pass sensible laws that hold children accountable in age-appropriate and trauma-informed ways. Recent rulings by the Nevada State Supreme Court and U.S. Supreme Court affirmed our actions last session.

Now Congress has the chance to follow Nevada and send a message about our national values and character.

We are a nation of second chances and nowhere is that more important than in how we treat our children. As the leaders of our respective parties in the Nevada Assembly and Senate, we urge Nevada’s congressional delegation, particularly Republican U.S. Sen Dean Heller and Democratic U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, to co-sponsor and push for the immediate passage of the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2016. Among other things, this bipartisan bill would eliminate life without parole sentences for children.

This measure would also bring about other important reforms. It would end life imprisonment for nonviolent drug felonies, grant judges more discretion in departing from harsh mandatory minimums for low-level and nonviolent drug offenses, retroactively apply reduced sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine (which previously was 100-to-1), and scale back solitary confinement for juveniles.

The bill has 15 Democratic sponsors and 13 Republican sponsors. The Obama administration and the U.S. Department of Justice have expressed support, as has former Attorney General Edwin Meese. Prosecutors, law enforcement officials, judges and advocacy groups on both the left and the right have backed the measure.

We are especially excited about the provision banning life-without-parole sentences for children. This would bring the U.S. government in line not only with Nevada, but states as diverse as Texas, Wyoming and West Virginia. Sixteen states have banned the use of life-without-parole sentences for children — and several more are considering such reforms.

We know that children are less able than adults to control their impulses, think through the long-term impacts of their behaviors or resist pressure from peers and adults. We also know that children possess a unique capacity for change and rehabilitation.

We have seen remarkable examples of these changes in Nevada. When we were considering AB267, five individuals who were convicted of murder as children testified before the Legislature. All had experienced trauma and exposure to violence before the crimes. All demonstrated remorse, served their time and now are productive members of society. They work, pay taxes and are raising their families and improving our communities. They are proof that we are all more than the worst thing we have ever done.

Children, more than anyone else, should have the opportunity to demonstrate they have been rehabilitated and deserve an opportunity to begin again. It is what we would want for ourselves and our own children or grandchildren.

We stand with the members of Congress who are advancing this legislation, and we call on Nevada’s congressional delegation to do the same. Passage of the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act would move us one step closer toward truly becoming a more perfect and more just union.

John Hambrick, a Las Vegas Republican, is Assembly speaker. Aaron Ford, a Las Vegas Democrat, is minority leader of the state Senate.

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