For the last 15 years, the Unites States has held the number one spot for the highest incarceration rate in the world. Black men disproportionally outnumber Latino and white men in the prison system. The issues with the prison system have been historically complex. Plagued with racism, and corruption. Prisoners have been known to be forced to plead guilty when innocent, jails have been known to profit illegally from the government and their prisoners especially in relation to the stay of longterm prisoners where jails have put pressure on prisoners to stay, even using threats.
Joseph Ligon was only 16 years old when he was convicted of murdering two men in Philadelphia. He was one of the youths charged with stabbing to death two men, Charles Pitts and Jackson Hamm just outside of the Point Breeze area, in 1963.
From day one Joseph Ligon has proclaimed since day one that he was an innocent man. Today he is the considered the longest serving juvenile in the prison system, he has been in the system for 63 years, almost his whole life behind bars.
Youth In Philadelphia
Joseph Ligon is among one of 300 men who is a serving a life sentence for crimes committed as juveniles in Philadelphia. Although Ligon admits that he was involved in a gang related brawl at the time he was arrested. He says he did not kill those men.
The Last One Standing
Ligon is the last man standing out of all the other lifetime sentenced men his age. Everyone has either died in prison or have been released. Joseph is also mentally disabled and has lived his whole life with special needs within the prison system.
A Little Perspective
To put his length of imprisoned time into perspective, when he was first brought into jail Dwight D. Eisenhower was president of the United States, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, and Apollo 8 was the first manned spacecraft to orbit the moon.
An Unexpected Turn
In the summer of 2016, District Attorney Seth Williams sought out new out new sentences for Joseph Ligon and the other 300 men involved in the incident. Reducing their sentence to 25 - 25 years, making the men, indulging Ligon, eligible for parole.
A New Future
Seth Williams did not just want to seek a new future for those Philly men, he wants to change the process of giving life with no parole to juveniles. In doing this he used the group that included Ligon as proof that their sentence was unnecessarily too long.
Supreme Court Changes The Rules
In January of 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that any juvenile sentenced to life in prison for convicted murder as teenagers must be considered for parole or given new sentences regardless of how long they have been serving their time in prison.
There are currently over 2,100 people in the prison system serving life sentences for crimes they committed as teenagers. The Supreme Court went on to say that these sentences were unconstitutional and must find some relief within these rulings.
For Joseph Ligon, his whole life was changed in an instant. The District Attorneys office, offered Ligon a deal, a 50 year prison sentence which would make him eligible for parole immediately. The 79 year old inmate declined the offer.
A Better Offer
Ligon refused the parole because he did not think the offer was good enough. the 79 year old feel he has served enough of his time and wants to be released immediately, no parole no other problems, he just wants to live the rest of his life in peace.
He Isn't Alone
Three other men in very similar situations as Ligon have also declined parole. They feel that living with parole is the same as being in prison, because they could leave and end up right back in jail if there is any sort of problem.
The Times Are Changing
The sentencing project says that the United States is the only country in the world that convicts juveniles under the age of 18 for life sentences. And already 18 states have banned the life in prison sentence for juveniles as of today.
The Sentencing Project recently released some stats surveyed from prisoners sentenced to life as juveniles like, 79% witnessed violence in their homes regularly, 32% grew up in public housing, and 40% had been enrolled in special education. All of these external influences as youths contributed to them becoming another prison statistic.
The Cost Of Life In Prison
Not only are these young kids throwing away their entire life to be lost in the prison system. This process is costing the country around $34,135 a year to house these inmates. Life for a juvenile without parole has become costly to our country and humanity in so many ways
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