What are “juvenile lifers,” and what is their connection to the work of Louisiana Parole Project?
The term “juvenile lifer” is given to people who were sentenced to life without parole for crimes committed when they were still children, more than 2,000 in the United States and approximately 300 in Louisiana. In 2012 and 2016 United States Supreme Court rulings prohibited the mandatory sentencing of juveniles to life in prison forcing Louisiana and other states change their laws to give juvenile lifers a “meaningful opportunity for release.” These newly parole-eligible men and women, having served 25, 30, and even 40 years of incarceration, face the unique challenge of returning to a very different world. Louisiana Parole Project is a nonprofit organization that was created to respond to the needs of juvenile lifers. We are committed to ensuring that the reintegration of these now grown men is successful.
Are “juvenile lifers” any different from the rest of the incarcerated population?
Yes and no. Per capita, Louisiana sends more children to prison for life without opportunity for parole than any other state. They too have committed a serious crime. But the rationale behind the Supreme Court’s decisions are based on scientific evidence that shows immature brain development makes them more impulsive and more susceptible to be negatively influenced, particularly by adults.
The court considered this evidence when it recognized juvenile lifers are capable of change as they mature.
How did the U. S. Supreme Court decision affect Louisiana Law?
Act 277 of the 2017 legislative session codified rules for juvenile lifer parole eligibility.
This Act provides parole eligibility to those whose crimes were committed before the age of 18 and were sentenced to life. At a parole hearing, they are given an opportunity to establish their rehabilitation. Going forward, it also prohibits life without parole for juveniles convicted of second-degree murder by providing parole eligibility after serving 25 years.
Does the Louisiana Parole Project work with other populations?
Yes. In addition to juvenile lifers, Parole Project also offers reentry services to “40-year lifers” who are now eligible for parole consideration due to changes in Louisiana law, and qualified others who have served 20 years or more and have demonstrated a record of rehabilitation and aged out of criminal behavior.
What kind of reentry program does Louisiana Parole Project offer?
Parole Project offers a one-year, evidence-based post-release coaching program for men and women who have completed long prison sentences. This includes:
Reorientation – clients become acclimated to life in the community through our intensive residential orientation program where they are prepared for the immediate challenges.
Step-down Transition – clients are placed in high-quality residential programs and halfway homes. Under the guidance of their coach, clients begin to practice their newly acquired skills.
Guided Community Reentry – LPP works closely with our partners to ensure our participants have obtained secure employment that pays a living wage. We make sure that the client is satisfactorily prepared to relocate before leaving our program and transitioning to their long-term residence.
What kind of skills do clients acquire in Parole Project’s reentry program?
While the people we serve are designated as high stakes, high needs, they are statistically “low risk” for recidivism. We are here to help them readjust and relearn necessary life skills, such as social norms, employment skills, banking and financial management, consumer skills, technological literacy, family and community reintegration and driving school/navigation.
Who is eligible for Parole Project services?
Parole Project assists eligible clients who meet the following criteria: client has served 20 years or more of the sentence imposed, has remained free of disciplinary infractions during the 12 consecutive months prior to the parole hearing date, has completed 100 hours of pre-release programming, has completed substance abuse treatment as applicable, has obtained a low-risk level designation determined by a validated risk assessment instrument approved by the Secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Corrections, and has contracted with Parole Project to complete the reentry program.
Does Louisiana Parole Project provide legal assistance?
In addition to reentry support, the Parole Project offers pro bono legal representation throughout the process for juvenile lifers. For information about potential legal assistance regarding parole hearings for the other populations served by our organization, please contact us.