Sara Kruzan was 16 when she lured her former pimp into a motel room, shot and killed him and took his money. The terrible crime was committed in Riverside County by a girl who had been sexually molested and physically abused since her earliest days, raised by an addicted mother, gang-raped at 13 and at the same age sent into the streets to make a living as a prostitute by the man she would eventually kill.
But teenagers change. Today, at 32, Kruzan is a model prisoner in the honor dorm at Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla. In January, she will receive her associate's degree from the nearby community college. She has volunteered for dozens of rehabilitation programs and won awards for her participation and attitude.
She also serves as an important reminder of why sentencing juvenile offenders to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole is backward and counterproductive. Science and society have learned more in recent years about the still-immature and rapidly developing brains of adolescents.
We have learned a great deal about juveniles and how they develop psychologically and physiologically. We also have decades of experience with the practice of juvenile waivers. Unfortunately this policy has failed to keep pace with the advances of knowledge. Once again, politics and ideology trump research and rationality.
Update 1/3/2011: On his way out of office, Gov. Schwarzenegger commuted Kruzan's sentence.