That city has the highest number of juvenile lifers in the country, according to researchers at Montclair State University in New Jersey, who authored the brief.
As more and more juvenile lifers, who were sentenced when they were under 18 years old, are being released due to sentencing reform following the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2012 Miller v. Alabama ruling and its 2016 Montgomery v. Louisiana decision, the researchers wanted to document their experiences before, during, and after incarceration.
Almost all of the juvenile lifers surveyed had participated in some form of prison programming, but more than half reported having been restricted from programs they wanted to participate in, mostly vocational programs such as barbering (Pennsylvania prioritizes people who have less than five years left
on their sentences for vocational training). Sixteen percent mentioned college credit courses when asked what programs they were shut out from.
Eighty-eight percent of the juvenile lifers surveyed participated in GED classes and 40 percent had some college programming.
“A lot of these guys who did end up taking advantage of the college programming were able to enroll through their perseverance as opposed to these programs being allocated for them,” said Tarika Daftary-Kapur, professor of justice studies at Montclair State and one of the authors of the brief.
Although programming in general did not have a significant impact on juvenile lifers’ reentry experience, participating in college classes may have had an effect on the type of jobs they had post-release.
Seventy-one percent had jobs in areas such as construction, maintenance, janitorial services, or retail. Around 22 percent were working in advocacy or the legal or nonprofit sectors, or held administrative positions.
Daftary-Kapur said that while the numbers are too small to show a statistical significance between college classes and type of employment, follow-up interviews indicate that those who had college classes might be more likely to find white collar jobs. “Those who sought out college credits seem to be the ones who landed those types of positions, based on early analysis,” she said.
Twenty-nine percent of the surveyed juvenile lifers reported that finding employment was their biggest challenge for reentry. The biggest barriers to employment were:
- Having a criminal record (65 percent);
- A lack of job experience (46 percent);
- A lack of job skills (28 percent).
Only 20 percent of respondents said that accessing educational opportunities was “the most challenging aspect of reentry.” Daftary-Kapur said that follow-up interviews showed that most juvenile lifers were not looking for educational opportunities after release. “It seems like education isn’t the top priority when they’re coming out,” she said. “It’s really getting a job, finding housing, and reconnecting with family.”
One of the recommendations made by the researchers was to provide more programming and training for juvenile lifers, especially as a growing number of states are passing “second chance” laws. “As such, it might be prudent to revise policies that restrict lifers and virtual lifers from educational and vocational programming,” they wrote.