Juvenile Lifers

When Vengeance Trumps Justice

On October 30, 2013 in the case of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. lan Cunningham, in one stroke the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's right wing justices created a class of political prisoners within the state's prison population by denying retroactive parole relief to prisoners who were juveniles when sentenced to mandatory sentences of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole (LWOP) – sentences that the United States Supreme Court abolished as unconstitutional in 2012. The ominous signs were on the horizon when the six sitting justices deadlocked 3 – 3 along party/ideological lines and Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, a conservative, appointed a fellow conservative, Judge Stevens, to the Court to cast the deciding vote. Justice Stevens, as expected, delivered for his gang and in doing so Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court disregarded the precedent of three prior US Supreme Court decisions in Roper, Graham and Miller that established juveniles are different from adults when it comes to imposing society’s harshest punishments and should be afforded greater protections from the one size fits all mandatory sentences that have proliferated in the hysterical “Tough on Crime” era of mass imprisonment.

Statement by Robert Saleem Holbrook regarding PA Supreme Court Denial of Retroactive Relief of Miller v. Alabama

Commonwealth v. Cunningham - Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied relief to children sentenced to life without parole in a ruling issued on October 30, 2013.

Re: Statement by Robert Saleem Holbrook regarding PA Supreme Court Denial of Retroactive Relief of Miller v. Alabama

Mandatory Life Without Parole for Juvenile Offenders Abolished: The Fight Continues

By Robert Saleem Holbrook and Dr. Kristi Brian

The movements struggling for the abolition of prisons received a much needed glimpse of optimism on June 25, 2012 when the United States Supreme Court’s ruling in Miller v. Alabama and Jackson v. Hobbs finally struck down mandatory life without parole sentences for juvenile offenders. This long-awaited first step towards the elimination of one of the most unforgiving tendencies of mass imprisonment has created a hopeful stir. Yet in Pennsylvania, which has more juvenile lifers than any other state, much has yet to be determined. There still exists a vocal and aggressive opposition comprised of vengeance-driven right wing victim rights advocates and “law and order” politicians who are afraid of being labeled soft on criminals. As a result, they vow to maintain the sentence in spirit by attempting to deny the retroactive application of the ruling to the hundreds of juvenile lifers in Pennsylvania and seek to enact draconian sentences that would require juveniles to serve a minimum of 40 years in prison before being considered for parole.

Anita D. Colón Before the Pennsylvania State Senate Judiciary Committee

As requested by State Senator Steward Greenleaf

Monday, September 22, 2008, 9:30 AM

In Hearing Room #1, North Office Building, Harrisburg, PA


Juveniles Sentenced to Life without Parole in Pennsylvania

Good morning Senator Greenleaf and Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. My name is Anita Colón. I am the sister of Robert Holbrook, a man currently serving a life sentence in Pennsylvania for a crime he was convicted of participating in at the age of 16. First, I would like to thank you, Senator Greenleaf, for holding this hearing on the issue of sentencing juveniles to life without the possibility of parole in Pennsylvania and allowing me to testify before you today. I praise both your concern about this issue as well as your willingness to step forward to address it.

My brother Robert was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for a crime that occurred on his sixteenth birthday. That day, lured by the promise of $500 made by a neighborhood drug dealer, Robert agreed to serve as a lookout for four adult males for what he thought was going to be a simple drug deal. My brother soon found himself in the midst of a robbery of a drug dealer’s young wife inside her home. Although he desperately wanted to run once he realized what was happening, he was terrified of the drug dealer that had ordered him to stay, and oblivious to the consequences that would await him if he remained.

U.S. should revisit life terms for juveniles

J.C. Lore III is a clinical associate professor at Rutgers Law School, Camden

The United States leads the world - by far - in sentencing children to die in prisons. It's the only country in the world where children are serving life sentences without the possibility of parole, and Pennsylvania leads the 50 states in the category.

At least 2,380 American prisoners - 450 of them, or nearly one-fifth, in Pennsylvania - were sentenced as juveniles and will never be considered for release. They will never have the opportunity to demonstrate that they have been rehabilitated. They are effectively guaranteed to spend their entire lives behind bars for things they did as children.

When Freedom is Outlawed, Only the Outlaws will be Free...

by Robert X - Prison Correspondent

Secret detention's. Secret Courts and Evidence. Closed Courtrooms. Racial Profiling. Indefinite imprisonment based on secret evidence or hearsay. Isolation and Sensory Deprivation inflicted on detained terrorist suspects to pry secrets from them. Americans seem shocked that their government is forced to resort to such measures in its ongoing War Against Terrorism ( or is it a War Against Dissent ). Yet many believe these tactics are necessary to protect the homeland against terrorists bent on mass murder ( Do the former sanctions on Iraq that claimed 1.5 million lives classify as mass murder?). Many Americans can rest well since the government has plenty of experience in the techniques it is now using to fight terrorism, as America has been perfecting its repressive methods within its vast prison system.

Indefinite confinement in isolation based on secret evidence and hearsay, closed tribunals, racial profiling and sensory deprivation are standard within the American prison system ( a.k.a. American Gulag ). Tens of thousands of prisoners, so-called American citizens, languish in American SuperMax prisons and Control Units in conditions not unsimilar to the treatment Al Qaeda and Taliban suspects and whoever else fits the government's vague definition of terrorism find themselves in when they are captured ( or is it detained? ) by America's global police. To languish in isolation in a prison cell for years based on secret charges and evidence or mere hearsay is a common feature in American prisons. The U.S. Supreme Court has sanctioned these authoritarian practices within American prisons in the name of preserving prison order and security. Should anyone be so naive to believe that it would forbid the indefinite imprisonment of foreign prisoners of war captured in America's so-called War on Terrorism?