Pennsylvania has granted parole to four “juvenile lifers” jailed decades ago after the U.S. Supreme Court retroactively banned mandatory life terms for minors, The Guardian reports. The court decision meant that more than 500 Pennsylvania inmates and 2,500 across the U.S. may seek new sentencing hearings and perhaps parole. The four Philadelphia-area men being released have spent decades in prison for crimes they committed as juveniles. They are now in their 50s and 60s. The state parole board chairman who met with them last week found their outlook on life surprising.
“The one thing that I will say stood out last week has been the surprising optimism of the ones we interviewed, based on the light at the end of the tunnel being turned back on. That was something very nice to see … their positive attitude,” Leo Dunn said. Defense lawyers concerned about how the board would view the cases are also feeling optimistic, if cautiously so. The inmates must first be resentenced by judges and then, if granted a chance at parole, persuade the majority of the nine-member board they are no longer a safety risk.
“They were told they were going to go to prison and die, so it’s a source of incredible optimism,” said Bradley Bridge, a lead lawyer working on the issue at the Defenders Association of Philadelphia. “[But] any time there’s hope you have to temper it with caution.” Dunn expects it to take a few years for the courts and parole board to work through the Pennsylvania cases.