Juvenile Lifers

Between 2005-2016, the Supreme Court of the United States decided a series of cases that restricted the severity of criminal sanctions that could be imposed on people who committed crimes before the age of 18. In Roper v. Simmons, 2005, the Court abolished the death penalty for juveniles; in Graham v. Florida, 2010, the Court banned life-without-parole (LWOP) sentences for youth convicted of non-homicide crimes; and then, in Miller v. Alabama, 2012, the Court abolished mandatory sentences of LWOP for youth convicted of homicide offenses. In Montgomery v. Louisiana, 2016, the Court ruled that Milller applied retroactively.

Following Miller and Montgomery, states across the U.S. have had to grapple with how to approach resentencing and, the potential release of their incarcerated juvenile-lifers. States have varied in their approaches. Some have abolished LWOP sentences entirely; some have maintained the sentence under discretionary schemes and have focused resentencing efforts only on individuals who had been given mandatory sentences; and still others have been slow to take steps on either front. At the time Miller was decided, there were approximately 2,100 individuals serving life without parole sentences for crimes committed as juveniles; at the start of 2020, this number had declined to 1,465, a 30% decrease.

The Legal Decision Making Lab at Montclair State has been studying the resentencing and reentry process for juvenile-lifers in Philadelphia, PA. Pennsylvania incarcerated the largest number of juvenile lifers in the country and has been at the forefront of the resentencing and release process. To date, 271 juvenile lifers have been released in the state. This is the first time such a large concentration of individuals sentenced to life for violent offenses have been released, providing us with a unique opportunity both to study the resentencing and release process and to develop an evidentiary basis to inform policy on how we can facilitate successful reentry.

Reports

The Philadelphia Experience

We examined the approach to juvenile-lifer resentencing taken by the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office and reported on cost-savings and recidivism for the jurisdiction. This study was supported by a Montclair State University research grant. 

To read the report, click here

A first look at Reentry

We surveyed released juvenile lifers in Philadelphia on various aspects of reentry, including their experiences reconnecting with family, securing housing and obtaining employment. This work is supported by a grant from the Vital Projects Fund.

To read the report, click here