Freshman Democratic governor commutes sentences for 21 inmates in California

Citing the youth of several of the offenders when they committed their crimes, California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday announced that he has commuted the sentences of 21 prison inmates.

Most were convicted of murder or attempted murder; seven had been serving life terms with no chance of parole.

The freshman Democratic governor criticized what he called the “disproportionately long sentencing enhancements” for some felons, including 25-years-to-life enhancements for using a firearm.

The commutations do not free the inmates, but make them eligible for parole hearings.

He noted in several of the commutations that the offender had been an accomplice in a slaying but did not pull the trigger. California recently enacted laws limiting the so-called felony murder rule, as well as laws making sure youthful offenders are considered for parole.

His office could not say if those laws would have affected any of those whose sentences he commuted.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday announced that he is commuting the sentences of 21 inmates, most serving life terms and several who otherwise had no chance of ever leaving prison. The decisions give them a chance at release if a parole board agrees.  (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation via AP)

California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday announced that he is commuting the sentences of 21 inmates, most serving life terms and several who otherwise had no chance of ever leaving prison. The decisions give them a chance at release if a parole board agrees.  (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation via AP)

Newsom’s predecessor, Jerry Brown, had criticized the numerous sentencing enhancements allowed under California law, many adopted as get-tough policies in the 1980s and 1990s. State lawmakers on Friday were on the verge of sending him a bill ending a mandatory one-year enhancement for repeat nonviolent felonies, though Newsom has not said if he will sign it.

The governor commuted the sentence of an 80-year-old woman, Doris Roldan, who was serving a life-without-parole sentence from Los Angeles County for working with two accomplices to kill her husband when she was 42 years old.

But he cited the youth of 16 offenders, several of whom were teenagers and one of whom was convicted as a minor.

Newsom’s office pointed to studies that the part of the brain responsible for impulse control does not mature until well into adulthood, along with offenders’ capacity for remorse and rehabilitation. He noted that the state and federal courts and California lawmakers have all found that youthful offenders must have a meaningful opportunity for parole.

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Two other inmates benefited from a program that trains and socializes dogs rescued from animal shelters, some of who are prepared to help veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

The Paws For Life program says former Governor Brown also recognized the program, which it says has had the most commutations of life sentences of any program in the state.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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