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Juvenile Lifers Information

For inmates and their families/friends - Frequently Asked Questions Document 
(Accessible Version)
 
CONTACT US ABOUT THIS ISSUE:  ra-crjuvenilelifers@pa.gov
 
In 2012, the United States Supreme Court held in Miller v. Alabama that it is unconstitutional to sentence a juvenile offender to mandatory life-without-parole. The Miller Court did not determine if the decision should be applied retroactively, and left that question to the states.  In 2013, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decided in Commonwealth v. Cunningham that Miller was not retroactive.
   
In January 2016, however, the United States Supreme Court disagreed.  It held in Montgomery v. Louisiana that Miller should, in fact, be applied retroactively and thus apply to cases decided prior to the 2012 ruling.
 
In practical terms, this means that those juvenile offenders previously sentenced to mandatory life-without-parole can seek resentencing by the trial court.
 
  

​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.”
 

​For Inmates' Families

What type of support will juvenile lifers be given?

The DOC has developed detailed plans to prepare individuals for their possible return to society.  Offenders face unique reentry challenges, particularly as they have been incarcerated since their youth and (often) for such extended periods of time.  With that understanding, the DOC has begun to hold focus groups with juvenile lifers to determine their needs so as to provide appropriate programming and other support.
 
“We want to do all we can to set these individuals up for success,” said DOC Secretary John Wetzel.  “Reentry into our society is like living in the age of the Jetsons for these guys.”
 
 
Benefits That May Be Available
 
 
 
DOC Treatment staff reports that there is now a nearly 80% completion rate for programs.
 
DOC reentry staff continue to validate Social Security numbers and establish procedures to receive and validate SSNs and SSN cards for inmates.
 
The DOC and its staff hold monthly inmate support groups.
 
The DOC also holds regular video conferences with facility employees and with juvenile lifers.  These meetings provide an opportunity for everyone to raise questions and concerns and to have them answered.
 
Since 2015, the DOC has prioritized programs for juvenile offenders so that those offenders may be prepared for a favorable decision from the United States Supreme Court in Montgomery.
 
The various facilities that house juvenile lifers have been bringing into the prisons various speakers from the communities to help educate the inmates about what it will be like to return home.  Available community services also are discussed. 
 

​For Crime Victims

 
How is the Office of Victim Advocate Working with Registered Victims?
 
The Office of Victim Advocate (OVA) continues to engage registered victims whose cases are impacted by the recent ruling.  OVA is also actively seeking unregistered victims to ensure they fully understand the impact of this ruling on their respective cases.  OVA is further working with district attorneys to understand how the cases will be handled at the local level.
 
Other efforts at ensuring that victims’ views are properly considered include:
Hosting a Webinar with local victim witness staff to collaborate on response, information sharing, and overall preparation for impacted victims;
· Working with DOC to encourage juvenile lifers’ participation in Victim Awareness classes and Impact of Crime classes; and
· Meeting with the PBPP to ensure that interested victims have the ability to provide input (including in-person testimony) to the Board should juvenile lifers become parole-eligible.
  
 
 

Website/Contact Information

 

Victim Advocate - 800-563-6399

 
  
 
 
 

Articles/Documents

 
 
 
 
 
My number was F5637 (11/30/2016)