Patrick Signs Parole Eligibility For Juvenile Murderers

A three-tiered system of parole eligibility for juvenile murderers in Massachusetts will be established under a law signed Friday by Gov. Deval Patrick.

Lawmakers sent the bill to his desk in the wake of state and federal court rulings determining that sentencing juveniles to life without parole was unconstitutional.

Under the legislation, juveniles convicted of first-degree felony murder become parole-eligible after serving 20 to 30 years and juveniles convicted of first-degree murder with premeditation become parole-eligible in 25 to 30 years.

Juveniles convicted of first-degree murder with extreme cruelty and atrocity would become parole-eligible after a minimum of 30 years.

The bill is not retroactive, meaning the roughly 60 people in the prison system who were convicted as juveniles and sentenced to life without parole defaulted to a parole-eligibility term of 15 years as a result of the court rulings.

The parole hearing process has begun for some of those 60 people.

The Criminal Justice Policy Coalition earlier this week unsuccessfully lobbied Patrick in a bid to have him propose an amendment to the bill.

In an email blast to members, the coalition said the bill should not have tiers. The coalition also asked for Patrick to amend the bill to include a right to counsel and access to experts at parole hearings.

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