RI lawmakers weigh earlier parole for young offenders with life sentences

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Convicted murderers with a life sentence must serve 25 years in prison before having the possibility of going before a parole board in Rhode Island. On Tuesday, local lawmakers considered whether certain juvenile offenders should be an exception.

“Everybody is moving in this direction, and it’s time for Rhode Island to get on board,” state Sen. Harold Metts said.

Under a bill considered by the state Senate Tuesday juvenile offenders currently serving life sentences with the possibility of parole would be eligible for release after a maximum of 15 years in prison. Juvenile offenders serving life sentences with parole eligibility earlier than 15 years would not be affected.

State Sen. Lou Raptakis, who helped pass a law in 2015 that increased mandatory minimum time behind bars for convicted murderers with life sentences, says he is staunchly against the new proposal.

“We want to keep murderers behind bars. Doesn’t matter what the age is,” said Raptakis. “The crime has to be an outrage. It had to be a heinous crime. So we’ve got a punishment that fits it.”

Metts contends that for juvenile offenders, serving 25 years before a chance at parole stamps out hope that the offender can get back on the right path. He also believes teens are less likely to comprehend the consequences of their actions.

“If I know I’m going to get life, there’s no reason for me to do well. There’s no reason to take any courses. There’s no reason for me to be involved,” Metts said. “They have a chance and it’s been proven by psychological evidence.

Metts also says that earlier parole eligibility would only be allowed if offenders displayed good behavior behind bars. According to Metts, the parole board must also be willing to take up the case and the offenders could still be denied parole.

Despite this, Raptakis says the bill could put Rhode Islanders in unnecessary danger and doesn’t believe it will pass.

“I think we’re playing Russian Roulette with the public,” said Raptakis. “I mean, this is a dangerous precedent.”