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Friends and Family Days for Juvenile Lifers

 

Friends and Family Days for Juvenile Lifers
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SCI Cambridge Springs held a Friends and Family Day on September 20, 2016, for juvenile lifers housed at the prison. 
Similar events have been held at other state prisons so that juvenile lifers may reconnect with those closest to them in advance of the possibility they may be reunited outside the walls. 
Juvenile lifers are individuals who were under 18 at the time they committed their crimes and were sentenced to life without parole. 
That changed in 2012 when the United States Supreme Court held in Miller v. Alabama that it was unconstitutional to sentence a juvenile offender to mandatory life without parole.
Since the ruling, the DOC has been working with the Board of Probation and Parole and the Office of Victim Advocate to help prepare the some 515 affected inmates and crime victims’ family members for the possibility they may be resentenced and released.
Steps being taken by the DOC include:
·         Fast-tracking juvenile lifers into prison educational and treatment programs.
·         Helping obtain various necessary identification documents such as Social Security cards. 
·         Providing a wide range of guidance for reentry.
·         Reestablishing and strengthening relationships with family members and friends. 
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The Friends and Family Days held at prisons provide not only a time for reconnection, but also the opportunity to hear a variety of speakers provide details about a wide range of topics juvenile lifers will need to know about upon their release from prison.
It is the responsibility of each juvenile lifer to work with their attorney to petition the court for resentencing.  A judge could sentence the individual to time served and put them on probation.  In other cases, the inmate could be resentenced to additional years in prison up to and including life. 
In all juvenile lifer cases, the DOC is working to provide individuals with the tools necessary to adapt to their circumstances no matter their outcome.  Special monitoring and assistance by psychological staff is being provided to help individuals who once thought they would spend the rest of their lives in prison.
With hundreds of juvenile lifers from counties across the commonwealth now able to file court petitions in their cases, it may take several years before the courts hear these cases.  Several individuals already have been released from prison, either directly to the community or to community corrections centers. 
DOC Secretary John Wetzel has said that he wants to set up these individuals for success and has directed resources be made available immediately to assist them.  Those who are released to parole supervision will be housed for a period of time at a community corrections center so the DOC and parole staff can help them transition back home. 
After spending several decades in prison, adjusting to “life on the outside,” with all of the changes that have taken place in society and with technology, could cause anxiety for juvenile lifers.  That’s why the DOC feels that a transition through a community corrections center is so important to an individual’s success beyond the prison walls. 
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Family and Friends Day Held at Benner Township
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SCI Benner Township officials, during the week of September 6, 2016, held a Friends and Family Day for juvenile lifers at the prison.
The special day was intended to give juvenile lifers a chance to meet with their family and friends and outside organizations to discuss their possible re-entry. It also gave them the opportunity to meet with friends and family of other juvenile lifers so they could talk about and share their concerns for their loved one. 
The day included guest speakers from the Wernersville Community Corrections Center and the PA Prison Society. Inmates were also afforded the opportunity to speak and express their gratitude towards their family.  
Staff, inmates and family and friends all gathered to show support for individuals who now have the possibility of returning home after being told for years that they would never see outside of the fence again.
To learn more about the juvenile lifer issue, please visit the DOC’s website at www.cor.pa.gov.  Select General Information and then Juvenile Lifers Information.
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“Juvenile Lifers” Community Support Day Held at Huntingdon
SCI Huntingdon held a community support day for juvenile lifers on August 16, 2016, that included family and friends of the inmates, as well as various agencies and organizations.
Representatives from the Department of Corrections’ central office, PA Board of Probation and Parole, PA Prison Society, Department of Human Services, CareerLink, Office of Vocational Rehab and SCI Huntingdon employees were stationed around the visiting room. 
After initial introductions were complete, inmates and their guests had the opportunity to visit each station and individually have their questions answered and concerns addressed. 
The event received very positive feedback from all in attendance.
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