Prison Radio
Kerry “Shakaboona” Marshall

“Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Juvenile Lifer Initiative excels under Robert Hammond,” by Kerry Shakaboona Marshall.

One of the most successful projects by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections in the past decade has to be the Juvenile Lifers Initiative established by Department of Corrections Secretary John Wessel and managed by Robert Hammond, Staff Assistant to the Deputy Secretary.

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Juvenile Lifers Initiative was established in response to Miller v. Alabama, a United States Supreme Court case ruling that mandatory life without parole sentences for child offenders convicted of homicide to be unlawful. At that time, the Juvenile Lifers Initiative sought to provide parole-mandated rehabilitation programming and family reunification day to juvenile lifer prisoners.

The United States Supreme court then ruled in the case of Montgomery vs. Louisiana that the Miller holding is to be retroactively applied to all juvenile lifers in the country. At which time the Juvenile Lifer Initiative expanded its programs to prepare juvenile lifers for a successful reentry into society.

Consequently, Robert Hammond expanded the Juvenile Lifer Initiative’s programs for juvenile lifers to include five monthly Juvenile Lifer Initiative video conferences where court updates were made, protocols were shared, and concerns discussed: rehabilitative treatment services, of which 393 of 507 juvenile lifers have completed treatment programs; educational and vocational programs of which 361 juvenile lifers has attained a high school diploma or GED; and 227 juvenile lifers has completed vocational training; identification assistance that helped juvenile lifers to obtain Pennsylvania state photo ID, Social Security cards, and birth certificates upon their eventual parole release to society; and juvenile lifer support and mentoring group that allows juvenile lifers to provide emotional support to each other, relieve stress and anxiety, and discuss the process of resentencing hearings.

On one occasion, Hammond had the Juvenile Lifers Initiative provide a virtual reality session with community correction centers where juvenile lifers, who have been incarcerated for quarter of a century, were able to experience the changes in American society through VR goggles to reacclimate juvenile lifers for reentry into society.

Hammond recently instituted two new Juvenile Lifer Initiative accommodations: the quasi-permanent court transfer status to end nonsensical back-and-forth court transfers between prisons for juvenile lifers resentencing hearings, and the transitional housing unit to bring juvenile lifers to prisons in close proximity to their own regions to reconnect family support basis that have been separate by long distance and the passage of time.

Robert Hammond has shown himself to be a leader par excellence within the DOC central office by his vision, skillful handling of adversity, respect among peers and juvenile life for prisoners, effective communication, understanding others’ points of view, and productability and managing DOC Juvenile Lifers Initiative.

Department of Corrections Secretary John Wessel clearly made a wise decision by appointing Robert Hammond as his Juvenile Lifer Initiative manager. Kudos to the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections for a job well done.

From the belly of the beast at Prison Radio, I am Shakaboona.

These commentaries are recorded by Noelle Hanrahan of Prison Radio.