Montana House: Bill would prohibit life sentence without parole for juveniles

(UM Legislative News Service) Eric Alexander was incarcerated in Tennessee at age 17. He says he a took a plea deal for a murder he did not commit in order to avoid a life sentence without parole.

Rep. Zach Brown

On Friday, he told the Montana House Judiciary Committee that while serving his two 25-year sentences, he was traumatized as a child in an adult prison.

“I am not the exception to the rule. The prison system is not conducive to the type of development that children need inside of the system,” Alexander said. “And when you’re that young going into an environment where adult predators already are, you become prey.”

Alexander only served 10 years and was able to get out early under parole. He came to the Montana Capitol Friday to support  House Bill 429, which would prevent minors from being able to receive life sentences without parole and would set a 15-year maximum to wait for parole.

The bill, sponsored by Zach Brown, D-Bozeman, also asks judges and parole boards to consider child-specific circumstances like family environment. Beth Brenneman with Disability Rights Montana said children can be impulsive and often don’t understand their actions.

“And that’s just for normal children. It’s even worse when you’re talking about children that are subject to abuse,” Brenneman said.

The bill drew 11 supporters and no opponents its public hearing Friday.

Tim Pierce is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association, the Greater Montana Foundation and the Montana Newspaper Association.