What You Need To Know:

Believed to be the oldest and longest serving juvenile lifer in the U.S., Joe Ligon, who is Black, was released after nearly 70 years in prison.

In 1953 at the age of 15, Ligon plead guilty to two counts of first-degree murder during a so-called degree of guilt hearing. The charges stemmed from a robbery and stabbing spree with four other boys in Philadelphia, which left six people wounded and two people dead. Though admitting in court to stabbing one person, he maintains he never killed anyone to this very day.

Why was Ligon in prison for so long, even after being offered clemency with parole by Pennsylvania’s governor in the 1970s? In addition, he was given a parole offer in 2017 after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on Miller v. Alabama, which deemed juvenile life sentences without parole unlawful. Ligon was eligible for parole since he spent over 60 years in prison but says he would have to live under supervision for the rest of his life and this was not the freedom he desired after being in prison over 60 years.

Bradley Bridge, Ligon’s attorney, ultimately argued that a mandatory life sentence for a crime his client committed as a juvenile was unconstitutional. The case was won in federal court in November 2020, granting Ligon freedom under his own terms.

Now free at the age of 83, and with the help of Philadelphia-based Youth Sentencing & Reentry Project, Ligon is re-entering society from an environment with no stimulation to a world that has changed dramatically since 1953. “…And now, it’s appropriate that he spends the last years of his life in freedom,” said Attorney Bridge.

Why We Need to Know:

How long does it take a child to learn their lesson? Keep in mind, a child who committed crimes no longer exists and is a fully grown adult. Juvenile sentences need reform.