|Elizabeth Lazano, center, was 16 when she was sentenced to |
life in prison for a murder her boyfriend committed.
“How we treat our children defines our society and defines us as human beings,” says California Democratic State Senator Leland Yee. Unfortunately, when it comes to criminal justice, the United States doesn’t have a great record with regard to child defendants. Currently California has over 6,500 inmates serving adult style sentences for crimes they committed as children, 309 of these teens were incarcerated for life. While some of these kids may have deserved a harsh sentence, almost half were convicted as accomplices only and some are currently leading exemplary lives.
Elizabeth’s storyInmate Elizabeth Lozano is one of them. Involved with an LA street gang in the early 1990s at the age of only 16, Elizabeth was present when her boyfriend shot and killed another gang member. Sent to Mexico by her frightened parents, Elizabeth returned to the United States two years later, then pregnant with her son and completely unaware that she was a wanted person. She was shortly arrested for the two-year old killing and was eventually sentenced to life without parole as an accomplice to the murder. Elizabeth played no direct role in the victim’s death.
Today, Elizabeth has most of a college degree and works as a prison counselor helping to keep other kids out of the gang lifestyle. She is now 37 years old and has spent more than 21 years in prison for a murder she didn’t herself commit. While there is no denying the tragedy of the life lost in Elizabeth’s case or the pain suffered by the family of the victim, it’s hard to rationalize the additional cost of having to detain Elizabeth for a life sentence.