Prison Radio
Kerry “Shakaboona” Marshall

Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s rulings in Miller v. Alabama and Montgomery v. Louisiana, the PDOC Secretary John Wetzel has implemented the Juvenile Lifer Project (JLP) for the child lifers in the State prison system, led by JLP Manager Robert Hammond. Although the establishment of the PDOC JLP is a step in the right direction, unfortunately, because it was so poorly thought through, quickly slapped together, and haphazardly implemented in State prisons, the PDOC JLP comes off as another P.R. puff piece by the PDOC’s media relations bureau.

The PDOC JLP has instituted ostensible juvenile lifer programs that include: Reestablishing and strenghtening relationships with family members; Fast-tracking child lifers into prison educational and treatment programs; Helping obtain State I.D.s; and Providing Reentry guidance. Of course such PDOC child lifer programs look good on the surface, but underneath they are worthless programs.

In the JLP’s attempt to reestablish and strengthen child lifers’ relationships with family members, it has established “Friends And Family Days For Juvenile Lifers” programs at several prisons, at which families and friends may visit child lifer loved ones in prison. Such a program, if it can be called such, is simply a glorified regular visit that prisoners are already allowed. Just because the PDOC is calling it the Friends and Family Days for Juvenile Lifers doesn’t make it a bonafied program. It’s still the same regular visit that all prisoners are permitted, the difference being, it is for child lifers only.

Moreover, the so-called Friends and Family Days for Juvenile Lifers program does not address the root cause of child lifers’ family ties being severed in the first place, which is the PDOC’s intentional confining of child lifers at State prisons hundreds of miles from their homes in counties located in the Central and western regions of Pennsylvania. Family and friends are unable to visit their child lifer loved ones in prison because of the extremely far distances of prisons; expensive cost to travel to distant prisons for visits; they are unable to take off from jobs on weekdays; and hostile prison guards often arbitrarily deny families entry for visits by way of enforcing petty visiting rules.

If the PDOC JLP were truly sincere in reconnecting child lifers with their family, they would establish a program that would transfer the 385 Child lifers from Philly to State prisons closest to Philadelphia county, and would establish the Friends and Family Days for Juvenile Lifers as a quarterly held banquet at those prisons closest to Philly.

The PDOC JLP program of fast-tracking child lifers into prison educational and treatment programs at State prisons, in particular SCI-Rockview, is defective in that prison administrators aren’t even aware of the PDOC’s JLP programs that are being touted. So prison administrators continue to routinely deny child lifers educational, vocational, and treatment opportunities within the State prisons.

The only good in the PDOC JLP thus far, have been the programs assisting child lifers in obtaining State I.D.s and Re-entry guidance.

Unfortunately for the PDOC, instead of asking child lifers themselves what programs they need, it has chosen the typical ineffective top-down bureaucratic approach of developing child lifer programs that are providing more symbol than substance.

The core problems of the current JLP programs can be easily remedied by Secretary Wetzel and JLP Manager Hammond: Informing all SCls of the JLP’s programs; Transferring Child Lifers to prisons closest to their home County; Holding quarterly Friends And Family Days For Juvenile Lifers Banquets at prisons closest to their home County; and Informing Prison Administrators to fast-track child lifers into educational and treatment programs [and] discontinue denying these opportunities to child lifers on the basis of custody level, code, misconduct report, or time remaining on sentence.

Only then can the PDOC’s JLP be a positive force of change for Pennsylvania’s Child Lifer prisoners, and not the empty shell of a project that it is today.

From the Belly of the Beast, at Prison Radio, I am Shakaboona. Thank you for listening.