In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled in Miller vs Alabama that mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles were unconstitutional. In 2016, Montgomery v. Louisiana made juvenile lifers retroactively eligible for resentencing under Miller. According to Restore Justice, a juvenile lifer is a sentence of life in prison, without the possibility of parole, imposed on a child under the age of 18. Pennsylvania has the highest number of juvenile lifers in the country. In 2020, of the 521 juvenile lifers in Pennsylvania, 456 had been resentenced and 224 had been released. Of the over 500 juveniles sentenced to life without parole in Pennsylvania, 300 juveniles were from Philadelphia alone.
Philadelphia’s District Attorney’s Office recently released a report by Montclair State University on released juvenile lifers and reentry services as crime prevention tools. The average age of the juvenile lifers that reported information to Montclair State University was 49 years old and the average length of incarceration was 33 years. Among those that were released there was a very low recidivism rate of 1.14%.
There are many barriers people face when returning home from incarceration including; employment, housing, obtaining a state ID, connecting with family and access educational opportunities. Despite the fact that it is a condition of their release 65% of the participants reported that their criminal record was a barrier to finding employment. 91% of participants reported that they had stable housing whether that was with a relative or in transitional housing and many of them were able to overcome obstacles to reentry. Those that were able to secure stable housing found it to be most helpful in their return back into the community. When participants have the proper support and services they are much more likely to succeed.
Using reentry services as a crime prevention tool not only benefits the individual that was formerly incarcerated but also protects the community from any further victimization. Reentry services can also benefit tax payers as the study by Montclair State University found that the 174 juvenile lifters who were released through the time of the study will yield $9.5 million in correctional cost savings over the first decade.
This is an important study and can have long lasting effects. Montclair State University has shown that with funded reentry programs we can reduce recidivism which will improve the individuals life and keep the community safe.