SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – There’s a push in the legislature to pass a bill that would give violent youthful offenders a second chance. Some say it would provide a path to redemption for those who committed crimes at a young age. Typically, someone sentenced to life in prison for a crime committed while underage could get the chance at parole after 30 years, but this bill would cut that time in half.

A second chance made all the difference to Eric Alexander’s future. He went to prison in Tennessee at the age of 17 for robbery and murder.

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“As a teen, I faced life without parole. I narrowly avoided the sentence by accepting two 25-year sentences,” said Alexander, who now serves with the Campaign for Fair Sentencing of Youth. “I served 10 years of that sentence and I’ve been out for 17 years.”

While behind bars, he got his degree and started studying developmental psychology. Now, he works with organizations across the country with other formerly incarcerated youth for fair sentencing and rehabilitation. It’s the kind of second chance some lawmakers want to give to those behind bars here in New Mexico.

“New Mexico is one of only a few states left,” said Denali Wilson, an attorney with the ACLU of New Mexico. “There are 25 states and D.C. that have all abolished juvenile life without parole and New Mexico has not.”

Senate Bill 43, also known as the “Second Chance Bill”, would offer a chance at parole after 15 years for those sentenced to life in prison for crimes they committed as a child or teen. The ACLU is advocating for the bill to be passed but reminds us that it’s not a ‘get-out-of-jail-free card.’

“The bill does not guarantee release of those who have become eligible for review. It merely creates an opportunity for them to demonstrate rehabilitation and that they deserve a second chance,” said Wilson. “People will have to demonstrate their reform and rehabilitation and that they are no longer a risk to public safety.”

Not everyone agrees. Nicole Chavez’s son was killed by a juvenile offender and earlier this month, she spoke to KRQENews 13 about her opposition to the bill. “We feel that if you take a life, you should serve your life sentence,” Chavez said on Jan. 10.

Others disagree with that stance. Wilson says she often works with crime victims and says it can be incredibly freeing, seeing someone turn their life around for the better.

“I believe that crime survivors are incredibly important voices in this process. Victims and survivors of harm, harm done, should be at the center of our criminal justice system and the center of conversations about policy,” said Wilson. “I work with victims and survivors every day who are excited to see the people who have done them harm turn over a new leaf and those voices matter.”

Supporters hope lawmakers will consider this potential as the bill makes its way through the legislature. Even for those that don’t make it to parole after 15 years, they will at least get a hearing every five years under the bill.

“There’s nothing to be afraid of,” said Alexander. “These men and women are acclimating themselves back into society and they’re contributing in major ways.”

According to the ACLU, there are currently 75 people here in New Mexico serving sentences longer than 15 years for crimes committed while underage. Some have even served upwards of 40 years. The bill will now be heard in the Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee. It’s not yet clear when it will be heard or whether it will advance to a vote.