For General Public
PA DOC Guiding Principle
The DOC will always respect victims’ concerns and help ensure that victims have access to relevant information. The DOC also takes seriously its obligation to respect the constitutional rights of its offenders, and will therefore prepare juvenile lifers for their potential return to society while managing expectations and ensuring access to courts and counsel.
How has the DOC provided affected inmates with access to this ruling?
The DOC promptly provided each institutional law library with information relating to the Montgomery decision to assist impacted offenders. The law libraries serve as resources for offenders to access legal documents. Eligible offenders may utilize these resources to work with their private attorneys or public defenders to petition the courts for relief.
How does this ruling affect the DOC?
Pennsylvania has the largest number of individuals who were juveniles at the time they committed their crimes and later sentenced to life-without-parole (a group otherwise known as juvenile lifers) - more than 500.
In Pennsylvania, a life sentence excludes the possibility of parole. However, if an individual’s sentence is modified (thus making them eligible for parole in the future) or if an individual otherwise becomes eligible for parole consideration, the DOC is obligated to prepare those offenders for release.
Who determines the release?
Montgomery did not change the release process. Upon reaching the minimum sentence expiration date, an offender may begin to seek parole from the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole (PBPP). If a modified sentence results in an offender being near or beyond his/her minimum sentence expiration date, that offender may seek parole from the PBPP.
The paroling process includes input from a number of entities, including the DOC, sentencing judge, district attorney and crime victim(s). The PBPP alone decides whether or not to parole a particular offender.
The DOC has no formal or legal role in any sentencing or paroling decisions. Sentencing and paroling determinations are independently made by the courts and the PBPP, respectively. The Montgomery decision does not constitute a get out of jail free program.
The DOC’s role, therefore, is to ensure that juvenile offenders continue to have seamless access to appropriate treatment and reentry programming. The DOC is committed to ensuring that bureaucratic barriers do not stand in the way of successful reentry or parole processes.
In Pennsylvania, juvenile lifer cases will be reviewed by the courts. Under Pennsylvania law, any parole decision will remain subject to the authority of the PBPP.
“This is not a lowering of the bar, so to speak,” DOC Secretary John Wetzel said. “The release decision remains independent via the parole board. The process has not changed.”