Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole (PBPP) is in the pits when it comes to reforming the way it handles parole review of child offenders and child lifer prisoners.
In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court decided the case of Graham vs. Florida that categorically banned sentencing a child offender to Life-Without-Parole (LWOP) for a non-homicide crime, and in 2012 and 2016 respectively, the U.S. Supreme Court in the cases of Miller vs. Alabama and Montgomery vs. Louisiana banned mandatory LWOP for child homicide offenders and gave retroactive effect in cases on state collateral review.
In Montgomery, the Court further held that “A State may remedy a Miller violation by extending parole eligibility to juvenile offenders. This would neither impose an onerous burden on the States nor disturb the finality of State convictions.” The court left it up to States to determine how they want to handle considering Child Lifers for parole and suggested that parole boards were a good choice for States.
In Pennsylvania, Philly, Pittsburgh and Chest counties have taken this option by resentencing their Child Lifers to upwards of 20-35 years-to life imprisonment or ‘Time served-to-life’, and placed the burden of considering those child lifers for parole release on the parole board.
Now the PBPP is faced with a perplexing dilemma. The State’s parole Law 61 Pa. C.S.A. 6137 (a)(1) prohibits parole release of individuals sentenced to life imprisonment, except for Child Lifers charged and sentenced under the 11002.1 murder statute on or after June 25, 2012, which means Child Lifers who were on State collateral review who have been recently resentenced to upwards of 20 or 35 years-to-life cannot receive parole (unless the parole board ignore 6137 (ca)(1).
Perchance parole review is given to those Child Lifers resentenced to 35 years-to-life, the Parole Board is incapable of providing child offenders and Child Lifers a meaningful and realistic opportunity for release, because it has not provided any special parole board procedure for child offenders and Child Lifers. Like:
1) A presumptive parole release standard of review at parole hearings that view child offenders/Child Lifers as less culpable than adult offenders and consider the mitigating factors described in Miller.
2) Requirement of a court-appointed attorney and expert witness at parole hearings of child offender/Child Lifers and;
3) Parole review officers trained in the scientific studies of adolescent brain development and behavior and mitigating factors in Miller.
While Pennsylvania lags behind in parole board reform for its Child Lifers, the states of Massachusetts, Connecticut, California, Louisiana, West Virginia, and Nebraska have implemented special parole board protection procedures for Child Lifers facing their State’s parole board.