Philly Is Rethinking Life Without Parole Sentences for Juveniles

Right now, approximately 300 Philadelphia inmates are eligible for resentencing hearings.


Inmates sentenced as juveniles to life without parole are about to get a second chance in Philadelphia, according to a new report in the Inquirer

Known for years as the city with the most inmates sentenced as juveniles to life in prison, Philadelphia is making changes following the Supreme Court’s 2012 Miller v. Alabama ruling, which stated that juveniles can only be given life sentences without parole if their crime “…reflects irreparable corruption.”

Since the ruling, Philadelphia has begun its resentencing process for nearly 300 inmates, who were given life sentences as juveniles without hope of parole. The city is allocating $1.5 million this year to fund the prosecutors and defenders who will begin sifting through the cases, and the Philadelphia court system is working to determine a strict schedule so that the hundreds of cases that need reviewing can be completed in a reasonable amount of time.

A Pennsylvania state law created by then-governor Tom Corbett following Miller ruled that those who were convicted of first-degree murder when they were under the age of 15 would receive 25 years to life without parole. Those 15-years-old or older would receive 35 years to life without parole. Sentences of second-degree murder would carry sentences of five years less based on the convicted person’s age; juveniles who were sentenced to second-degree murder would be eligible for parole.

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams plans to base his sentences on the law in the hopes of showing juvenile inmates that they can have a future outside of prison walls.

Other states and counties across the U.S. are looking to Philadelphia to see what we are doing. Our plan meets the Supreme Court’s ruling and takes into consideration public safety, the defendant’s rights, and the services and supports they may need once released; all while respecting the victims and their families,” Williams said in a statement Friday.

Prison reform has been a hot topic this year. Since March, President Obama has commuted the sentences of 348 individuals, more than the last seven presidents combined, according to The White House. Former President Bill Clinton was the closest to Obama, with 61 commutations during his presidency. President Obama also banned solitary confinement of juveniles in federal prisons in January.

So far, two inmates in Philadelphia who were sentenced as juveniles to life in prison have been granted new sentences, making them eligible for parole immediately, according to The Inquirer. The entire resentencing process is scheduled to take no more than three years.