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“May all your storms be weathered, and all that’s good get better” —from Shirley Horn’s “Here’s to Life,” quoted in a card from a juvenile lifer born in 1966.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions in Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2455 (2012), and Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S. Ct. 718 (2016), represent a sea change in the administration of justice for youth in our country. Separately and together, they provide hope, and they represent another rung in the ladder toward more thoughtful and humane sentencing for youth. Miller eliminated mandatory life in prison sentences for youth (under age 18), including homicide offenses, and Montgomery made Miller retroactive. Collectively, they impacted approximately 2,000 cases nationwide, including approximately 500 in Pennsylvania and 300 that originated in Philadelphia County.

Despite the hope they represent, Miller and Montgomery do not eliminate life without parole for teens, or juvenile life without parole (JLWOP). In Pennsylvania, children as young as 10 years old are still eligible to receive a sentence that condemns them to die in prison. And juvenile lifers—many of whom have served two, three, four, five and even six decades in prison for events that occurred before they could legally vote or execute a contract—are still eligible to receive sentences that condemn them to die in prison. Philadelphia’s District Attorney, Seth Williams, very publicly declared that he will no longer seek life without parole for individuals whose crimes took place when they were under the age of 18. This statement was met with much praise and adulation by the national media, and local and national advocates alike. But the very same week that headline hit the newsstands, so did another article, about a teenager—15 years old at the time of his arrest—who was offered and accepted a sentence of 25 to 80 years in prison by Williams’ Office.

The sentencing scheme for older cases is provided in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court case of Commonwealth v. Batts, 66 A.3d 286 (Pa. 2013), which mandates that, upon resentencing a former juvenile lifer, judges have discretion to create a sentence of any minimum, up to any maximum (in other words, there is no current minimum that a judge must impose). Under Batts, judges can impose “time served” sentences or their equivalent; the maximum could, but need not be, life. Currently pending before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is another iteration of Batts (Commonwealth v. Batts, 45 MAP 2016), in which the court will consider the presumptions and process required in JLWOP resentencing hearings, and the development and ­implementation of procedural safeguards to “ensure the sentence is used sparingly” (see The Legal Intelligencer, “High Court to Eye Need for Juvenile Sentencing Safeguards,” April 24, 2016).

Recently enacted Pennsylvania law ­governing the sentencing of youth who are convicted of homicide-related crimes requires a mandatory minimum sentence of 35 years to life for teens 15 and older at the time of their first-degree offenses, and a minimum of 25 years to life for those who were 14 and younger. The lookout in a drug deal gone bad, or anyone else who gets convicted of second-degree homicide, is required to serve a minimum of 30 years to life if she was over 15 at the time of the crime, or a minimum of 20 years to life if she was 14 or younger. These mandatory minimums apply without any individualized consideration of the very factors that the U.S. Supreme Court mandated must be analyzed in cases where a teenager is the defendant, including his home environment at the time of the incident in question, and his level of participation in the crime.

However this statute, Act 204 of 2012, is explicit about the fact that it does not apply retroactively. It governs only individuals who had not yet been sentenced when it took effect. Notwithstanding that important and explicit limitation, there is concern that District Attorneys’ Offices in Philadelphia and other parts of Pennsylvania will use the statute as guidance in all juvenile lifer resentencing hearings. If they do, the constitutionally required analysis of the particular circumstances (whether the defendant was the shooter or the lookout; whether the victim was her abuser; or whether he has served his entire sentence infraction-free) is eliminated.

The potential use of mandatory ­minimums and blanket sentencing schemes, such as the one provided by Act 204, both underscores and undercuts the importance of mitigation. Traditionally used after the guilt-innocence phase in capital cases where a person’s life is on the line, mitigation involves ­compiling a comprehensive and well-documented ­psychosocial history of the client to ­create a more complete narrative. At its core, mitigation attempts to contextualize an accused person’s alleged actions, to share his story with an eye to revealing a richer and more nuanced reality than the facts of the case alone could ever provide. It is a way to demonstrate that context matters. And that childhood matters.

Applying this mitigation framework to cases where children were sentenced to life in prison without parole, the Youth Sentencing & Re-entry Project (YSRP) is partnering with the Atlantic Center for Capital Representation (ACCR), as well as the Defender Association of Philadelphia and Juvenile Law Center to ensure that the mandates of Miller and Montgomery are carried out in the First Judicial District. The resentencing hearings mandated by both of these decisions will require ­thoughtful and individualized mitigation investigations to uncover the context of every case. Put simply, the success of post-Montgomery resentencing hearings will hinge on mitigation.

JLWOP mitigation is unique in that it must also include re-entry planning (whereas in capital cases the choice is between life in prison or ­execution, here we’re talking about potential ­release). Significant resources are needed to provide comprehensive re-entry support for the men and women who will be returning to the community after decades of incarceration. For the resentencing process, attorneys and advocates must work collaboratively with their clients to develop detailed, individualized re-entry plans to demonstrate their readiness and capacity for successful re-entry. This effort requires the involvement of mitigation specialists and a ­coordinated response from the Philadelphia re-entry community. In addition to the fundamental needs of shelter, employment, health care, food and clothing, individuals returning to the community after decades behind bars will need support in ­navigating the complexities of our modern world, including: how to use technology, how to engage with the opposite sex, and how to manage limited resources in an era when predatory schemes abound (to name just a few). The enormity of these challenges is illuminated by the simple questions juvenile lifers ask when thinking about adjusting to life outside of prison. One juvenile lifer who was 15 years old when he was sentenced to life in prison in 1970, and has been incarcerated for 46 years recently asked, “How much will things cost?”

Local nonprofit and legal services providers meet regularly to identify and coordinate resources that are directly responsive to the needs of the men and women who will be returning to our community upon resentencing and release, as well as support for their families. For the juvenile lifers returning home, it will take more than a village to provide the support they will need to successfully reintegrate. As the largest city in a state that has sentenced more children to life in prison without parole than any other in the country (and hence has the most juvenile lifers in the world), Philadelphia has a unique opportunity and moral responsibility to seize this moment—to create the model for how to humanely and appropriately handle these cases, from the courtroom to the ­community.

“May all your storms be weathered, and all that’s good get better” —from Shirley Horn’s “Here’s to Life,” quoted in a card from a juvenile lifer born in 1966.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions in Miller v. Alabama , 132 S. Ct. 2455 ( 2012 ) , and Montgomery v. Louisiana , 136 S. Ct. 718 ( 2016 ) , represent a sea change in the administration of justice for youth in our country. Separately and together, they provide hope, and they represent another rung in the ladder toward more thoughtful and humane sentencing for youth. Miller eliminated mandatory life in prison sentences for youth (under age 18), including homicide offenses, and Montgomery made Miller retroactive. Collectively, they impacted approximately 2,000 cases nationwide, including approximately 500 in Pennsylvania and 300 that originated in Philadelphia County.

Despite the hope they represent, Miller and Montgomery do not eliminate life without parole for teens, or juvenile life without parole (JLWOP). In Pennsylvania, children as young as 10 years old are still eligible to receive a sentence that condemns them to die in prison. And juvenile lifers—many of whom have served two, three, four, five and even six decades in prison for events that occurred before they could legally vote or execute a contract—are still eligible to receive sentences that condemn them to die in prison. Philadelphia’s District Attorney, Seth Williams, very publicly declared that he will no longer seek life without parole for individuals whose crimes took place when they were under the age of 18. This statement was met with much praise and adulation by the national media, and local and national advocates alike. But the very same week that headline hit the newsstands, so did another article, about a teenager—15 years old at the time of his arrest—who was offered and accepted a sentence of 25 to 80 years in prison by Williams’ Office.

The sentencing scheme for older cases is provided in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court case of Commonwealth v. Batts , 66 A.3d 286 ( Pa. 2013 ) , which mandates that, upon resentencing a former juvenile lifer, judges have discretion to create a sentence of any minimum, up to any maximum (in other words, there is no current minimum that a judge must impose). Under Batts, judges can impose “time served” sentences or their equivalent; the maximum could, but need not be, life. Currently pending before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is another iteration of Batts ( Commonwealth v. Batts , 45 MAP 2016 ), in which the court will consider the presumptions and process required in JLWOP resentencing hearings, and the development and ­implementation of procedural safeguards to “ensure the sentence is used sparingly” (see The Legal Intelligencer, “High Court to Eye Need for Juvenile Sentencing Safeguards,” April 24, 2016).

Recently enacted Pennsylvania law ­governing the sentencing of youth who are convicted of homicide-related crimes requires a mandatory minimum sentence of 35 years to life for teens 15 and older at the time of their first-degree offenses, and a minimum of 25 years to life for those who were 14 and younger. The lookout in a drug deal gone bad, or anyone else who gets convicted of second-degree homicide, is required to serve a minimum of 30 years to life if she was over 15 at the time of the crime, or a minimum of 20 years to life if she was 14 or younger. These mandatory minimums apply without any individualized consideration of the very factors that the U.S. Supreme Court mandated must be analyzed in cases where a teenager is the defendant, including his home environment at the time of the incident in question, and his level of participation in the crime.

However this statute, Act 204 of 2012, is explicit about the fact that it does not apply retroactively. It governs only individuals who had not yet been sentenced when it took effect. Notwithstanding that important and explicit limitation, there is concern that District Attorneys’ Offices in Philadelphia and other parts of Pennsylvania will use the statute as guidance in all juvenile lifer resentencing hearings. If they do, the constitutionally required analysis of the particular circumstances (whether the defendant was the shooter or the lookout; whether the victim was her abuser; or whether he has served his entire sentence infraction-free) is eliminated.

The potential use of mandatory ­minimums and blanket sentencing schemes, such as the one provided by Act 204, both underscores and undercuts the importance of mitigation. Traditionally used after the guilt-innocence phase in capital cases where a person’s life is on the line, mitigation involves ­compiling a comprehensive and well-documented ­psychosocial history of the client to ­create a more complete narrative. At its core, mitigation attempts to contextualize an accused person’s alleged actions, to share his story with an eye to revealing a richer and more nuanced reality than the facts of the case alone could ever provide. It is a way to demonstrate that context matters. And that childhood matters.

Applying this mitigation framework to cases where children were sentenced to life in prison without parole, the Youth Sentencing & Re-entry Project (YSRP) is partnering with the Atlantic Center for Capital Representation (ACCR), as well as the Defender Association of Philadelphia and Juvenile Law Center to ensure that the mandates of Miller and Montgomery are carried out in the First Judicial District. The resentencing hearings mandated by both of these decisions will require ­thoughtful and individualized mitigation investigations to uncover the context of every case. Put simply, the success of post-Montgomery resentencing hearings will hinge on mitigation.

JLWOP mitigation is unique in that it must also include re-entry planning (whereas in capital cases the choice is between life in prison or ­execution, here we’re talking about potential ­release). Significant resources are needed to provide comprehensive re-entry support for the men and women who will be returning to the community after decades of incarceration. For the resentencing process, attorneys and advocates must work collaboratively with their clients to develop detailed, individualized re-entry plans to demonstrate their readiness and capacity for successful re-entry. This effort requires the involvement of mitigation specialists and a ­coordinated response from the Philadelphia re-entry community. In addition to the fundamental needs of shelter, employment, health care, food and clothing, individuals returning to the community after decades behind bars will need support in ­navigating the complexities of our modern world, including: how to use technology, how to engage with the opposite sex, and how to manage limited resources in an era when predatory schemes abound (to name just a few). The enormity of these challenges is illuminated by the simple questions juvenile lifers ask when thinking about adjusting to life outside of prison. One juvenile lifer who was 15 years old when he was sentenced to life in prison in 1970, and has been incarcerated for 46 years recently asked, “How much will things cost?”

Local nonprofit and legal services providers meet regularly to identify and coordinate resources that are directly responsive to the needs of the men and women who will be returning to our community upon resentencing and release, as well as support for their families. For the juvenile lifers returning home, it will take more than a village to provide the support they will need to successfully reintegrate. As the largest city in a state that has sentenced more children to life in prison without parole than any other in the country (and hence has the most juvenile lifers in the world), Philadelphia has a unique opportunity and moral responsibility to seize this moment—to create the model for how to humanely and appropriately handle these cases, from the courtroom to the ­community.