Dozens of Colorado prisoners hope for freedom after decision on juvenile life sentences

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In light of Supreme Court decisions banning life without parole for juvenile offenders, dozens of Colorado prisoners who committed crimes as minors could be eligible for release, but only one has been freed.

It’s been more than a year since the U.S. Supreme Court made retroactive its 2012 ban on such sentences.

Many states are grappling with the issue. Here’s a look at the situation in Colorado.

How many cases?

Colorado ended life-without-parole sentences for juveniles in 2006, but there were 48 offenders sentenced between 1990 and 2006, when the term was an option.

The state Department of Corrections says four have been resentenced, and one has been paroled. None has been resentenced to life without parole.

“We are aware of four or five others that are potentially coming up for resentencing soon,” Mark Fairbairn, spokesman for the Colorado Department of Corrections, said in a statement.

The prisoners still have life sentences — just with the possibility of parole. They generally aren’t eligible for that until they’ve served 40 years.

Seeking parole:

State lawmakers in 2016 ordered corrections officials to create a program for offenders sentenced to life terms as juveniles, with or without parole. Those inmates could join the program after serving 20 years or 25 years if convicted of first-degree murder. Upon completion, offenders could be eligible to apply to the parole board; release is up to the governor.

Fairbairn further explains that in the cases affected by these Supreme Court rulings, the Department of Corrections contacts the inmate’s prison for a review of earned time, dating back to the original date of sentencing; the inmate is then scheduled for a parole hearing.

Long sentences:

The Colorado Supreme Court ruled in late May that extra-long sentences for juvenile offenders don’t violate the federal decision that inmates must have a meaningful opportunity to seek release.

Colorado has nearly three dozen inmates who committed crimes as juveniles are serving virtual life sentences of 50 years or more, the Denver Post has reported. Some of these sentences mean an inmate is likely to die in prison.

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