America’s longest-serving juvenile lifer has finally been freed after spending 68 years in jail.
Joseph Ligon was only 15 years old when he was sentenced to life in prison for being involved in a string of assaults and robberies with a group of teens in Philadelphia.
Two people tragically died due to those crimes but Ligon insisted that he did not kill anyone, according to Philadelphia Inquirer.
In 2012, it was ruled by the Supreme Court that mandatory life sentences imposed on juveniles constituted unusual and cruel punishment and were unconstitutional.
After four years, the court ordered states to reduce the sentences of people who were given life sentences for crimes they committed when they were juveniles.
Ligon and over 500 ‘juvenile lifers’ were resentenced to reduced prison terms that included parole.
Ligon was resentenced to 35 years to life in 2014 but he refused to apply for parole.
“I like to be free,” he expressed. “With parole, you got to see the parole people every so often. You can’t leave the city without permission from parole. That’s part of freedom for me.”
Public defender Bradley Bridge went to federal court and asked for Ligon to be released. He wrote: “The constitution requires that the entire sentence, both the minimum and maximum terms imposed on a juvenile, be individualized – and a one size fits all cannot pass constitutional muster.”
In November, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office accepted attorney Bridge’s motion and ordered his client either released within 90 days or resentenced.
After spending 68 years in prison, Ligon, now 83, was finally freed from the State Correctional Insitution Phoenix in Montgomery County.
Bridge said that Ligon’s case shows the excesses of the criminal justice system.
“We waste people’s lives by over-incarcerating and we waste money by over-incarcerating,” Bridge said.
“His case graphically demonstrates the absurdity of wasting each.
“Hopefully his release, and the release of the juvenile lifers in general, will cause a re-evaluation of the way we incarcerate people.”
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