Incarceration Nation

Child Lifers

Pennsylvania parole board refuses to reform how it reviews child lifers

By Shakaboona

In the face of societal change, some aspects of government are slow to change with the times; and some being content with the way things are, refuse to change at all. Pennsylvania’s Board of Probation and Parole (PBPP) is one of those government agencies that refuse to change with the times at all. Such is the nature of bureaucracies.

In this great sea of societal change, the people of America—followed by the U.S. Supreme Court—have changed its view of adolescent brain development and behavior and how its Court systems shall treat children who commit criminal offenses.

In a string of U.S. Supreme Court cases involving Child Offenders serving sentences of the Death Penalty and LWOP (Life Without Parole) for murder, the Justices have consistently held that “kids are different” and are “less culpable than adult offenders.” However, the Pennsylvania Parole Board aren’t accustomed to thinking about that at all.

And it shows. It appears that the Pennsylvania Parole Board didn’t get the memo in this matter, because they have shown no signs of reforming how they review parole release for Pennsylvania’s approximately 4,000 Child Offenders and 560 Child Lifers certified as adults and imprisoned within the Pennsylvania State Prison System.

Despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that kids are to be treated differently than adult criminal offenders, the Pennsylvania Parole Board continues to conduct parole review hearings of child offenders under the same criteria as that of adult offenders. As far as the Pennsylvania Parole Board is concerned, it’s business as usual, and reform of its parole review of child offenders is just not on the business agenda.

Currently, the Pennsylvania Parole Board is incapable of providing adequate parole release hearings to child offenders serving time in adult State prisons because despite the Supreme Court’s rulings in the Roper, Graham, Miller, and Montgomery cases, the Parole Board has yet to create new policy and practices regarding parole review of child offenders; has yet to establish a criterion of a “lesser than adult” standard of review to child offenders at parole release hearings; has yet to train its parole review officers in the scientific studies of adolescent brain development and behavior or the mitigating factors cited in Miller; and has not required “presumptive parole” for child offenders at parole reviews.

Although bureaucracies are reluctant to change for the better, nothing will get the Pennsylvania Parole Board to reform the way it reviews parole release for Child Offenders other than a good kick in the behind.

Kerry “Shakaboona” Marshall is Co-Founder and Editor of The Movement magazine, Prison Radio Correspondent, founding member of the Human Rights Coalition (HRC) and a Child Life-sentenced prisoner.

Write to:

Kerry “Shakaboona” Marshall #BE7826

SCI Rockview, Box-A

Bellefonte, PA 16823