Until recently, the United States was the only country in the world in which children received mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole (JLWOP). In Miller v. Alabama (2012), the Supreme Court held that this mandatory sentencing scheme is unconstitutional. In Montgomery v. Louisiana (2016), the Court guaranteed re-sentencing for over 2,000 juvenile lifers throughout the country. The Montgomery decision is of particular significance in Pennsylvania, as the state has sentenced more than 500 children to die in prison. Of the approximately 500 juvenile lifers throughout the state, more than 300 of these individuals were sentenced in Philadelphia, making the city “ground zero” for JLWOP.
As a result of Montgomery, individuals—some of whom have spent decades in prison—are returning to their communities. The Youth Sentencing & Reentry Project (YSRP) created the Pennsylvania JLWOP Reentry Navigator in response to the critical need for a source of tailored reentry resources for juvenile lifers in Pennsylvania. The Navigator is a product of YSRP’s discussions with juvenile lifers post-Montgomery; the 13 resource categories reflect the areas in which juvenile lifers identified an interest in information and support. The Navigator is designed for use by juvenile lifers and their loved ones, attorneys, and advocates supporting their return home.
The Navigator can be used in three main ways. First, individuals can anonymously complete a questionnaire to obtain a list of resources in their county based on their individual needs. Second, individuals can browse resources by county to learn about the organizations and government agencies that provide support in their area. Third, individuals can browse resources based on the type of services or support they would like to receive. There are 14 categories of reentry resources, which include housing resources, volunteer opportunities, employment assistance, faith-based services, and food resources. For instance, if an individual is only interested in housing, she can limit her search to obtain results about housing programs and organizations that provide assistance with accessing housing, furniture, or paying rent and utilities.
YSRP began researching and collecting resources for the Navigator in the fall of 2016, through a process coordinated and staffed largely by graduate student volunteers. The Navigator provides detailed descriptions of each resource to ensure that individuals can obtain relevant information about available programs and services in a single place. Each resource on the Navigator has been “vetted" through phone calls, e-mail correspondence, or internet research. Through the vetting process, YSRP gathered information about eligibility requirements (for example, to determine whether programs require participants to provide proof of income or have a high school diploma), programs details, and up-to-date contact information. In addition, the vetting process ensured that the services are available to individuals with histories of incarceration, and in particular individuals who were sentenced to life in prison without parole as children.
In addition to creating the Navigator, YSRP and the Atlantic Center for Capital Representation (ACCR) have partnered to coordinate mitigation services for private, pro bono and court appointed counsel representing juvenile lifers on resentencing. In each case YSRP works on in Philadelphia, YSRP provides its intensive service delivery model, including comprehensive mitigation and reentry planning, to juvenile lifer clients and their families. To do so effectively, we have recruited, trained and are supervising a cohort of volunteers, including law and social work students, retired and other professionals, and others. To learn more about YSRP, please visit www.ysrp.org.
YSRP would like to thank the following volunteers and interns, without whom the Navigator would not exist: Nadia Kale, Ilana Polak, Ariana Brill, Imani Hudson-Hill, Kelly Sagastume, and Shauna Pierson. We also thank individual and organizational members of the Philadelphia Reentry Coalition, and especially the Coalition's Juvenile Life Without Parole Reentry Working Group. We look forward to continuing to build and refine this tool together, and appreciate the collective process that has unfolded to date.
YSRP welcomes any feedback or questions. Please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.