Pennsylvania Tries To Help Released Juvenile Lifers

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Daniel Peters was released last month to a halfway house in Philadelphia after 34 years behind bars since he was 17. Peters, the first to be released of 295 inmates from Philadelphia sentenced as juveniles to life without parole under a law the Supreme Court has found unconstitutional, is a test case in an unprecedented reentry challenge for the city, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. Officials and nonprofit groups are piloting unprecedented measures as they wrestle with how to support reintegration. They are dealing with ex-inmates in their 50s, 60s or 70s, with no savings, varying amounts of family support, and no experience navigating the world as adults.

“We’re trying to figure out the best path that we can put someone who was a child when they came to us,” Pennsylvania Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said. “We’re trying to figure out what reentry looks like if we want them to be successful.” The needs are significant. Of 507 lifers statewide, 95 are on the prisons’ active mental-health roster; half have a history of mental-health problems. There are 21 sex offenders. Some 318 have been locked up longer than 20 years. The oldest, Joseph Ligon, is 78 and has been incarcerated since 1956, giving him the distinction of being the world’s longest-serving juvenile lifer. Like the others, he has not had the chance to amass retirement savings, pay into Social Security, or earn a pension. The corrections department started running focus groups with juvenile lifers early this year. It is working to get them government-issued identification cards and applications for medical assistance. Wetzel says each lifer ought to spend a year in a halfway house. The department aims to pair each lifer with a mentor.

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