Some people who were sentenced to sentences of life without parole as juveniles have been resentenced and released from prison in Pennsylvania. However, many of these people have received sentences including indefinite parole, threatening their freedom if they commit even a minor parole violation. Some former offenders who are currently on lifetime parole are advocating for reform to the state’s parole system.
The problem of lifetime parole
The Supreme Court of the United States ruled in 2012 that sentences of life without parole for juvenile offenders were unconstitutional. This decision resulted in many juvenile offenders being resentenced, and some have been released on parole. However, when they receive new sentences such as 35 years to life, they are released with indefinite parole. This means that they stand to be under parole supervision for the rest of their lives, placing a cloud over their ability to truly rejoin society.
For people who are on parole, even a small parole violation can send them back to prison for years. Prosecutors do not have the same burden of proof at probation and parole hearings, so it is much more difficult for people to defend against allegations of probation and parole violations.
Because of these issues, people who are released from prison on indefinite parole can never truly experience freedom. Instead, they live under a dark cloud. The potential of a return to prison for a minor parole violation follows people on lifetime parole. Advocates are pushing to reform Pennsylvania’s probation and parole system to end indefinite parole. However, several previous attempts at reform have failed, including a failed push in 2020. Despite these setbacks, several organizations continue to try to bring this issue to the attention of the legislatures with the hope of ending indefinite parole in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.