It is on a rare occasion that a man would stand by his principles, even if it meant forfeiting a prison release after a lifetime of incarceration. Such is the case for one man. Seventy-nine-year-old Joseph Ligon was convicted as a juvenile for his involvement in the murder of two men. Despite a recent Supreme Court ruling barring life sentences without parole for juvenile offenders, Ligon has refused to be set free on a technicality. Ligon wants to be released outright, declining the offer of parole.
Ligon is currently the oldest living prisoner still incarcerated, who was convinced as a juvenile. His sentence was handed down 63 years ago. More than seventy-five percent of his life was spent locked up. The January Supreme Court verdict allows for him and 300 other prisoners locked up in Philadelphia, to be released. The court found that sentencing a juvenile to a life sentence without parole violates the Eighth Amendment, which ensures protection against cruel and unusual punishment. The US criminal justice system not only locks up more of its citizens than any other nation in the world, it subjects its prisoners to unusually long sentences.
After the ruling was handed down, Ligon was offered an adjusted 50-years to life, which would allow him immediate parole. Ligon rejected the offer out of principle. According to Bradley Bridge of the Defender Association of Philadelphia, “His view is: He’s been in long enough. He doesn’t want to be on probation or parole. He just wants to be released.”
Ligon’s crime occurred over 63 years ago, leaving him a frail and withered old man. Often, prisoners are released with a handshake and a hundred bucks, leaving little hope for them on the outside. Having no family on the outside to help him re-establish himself in the community, walking out those doors is practically a death sentence.
The DA has already made 65 offers to inmates who were affected by the Supreme Court ruling. Although there are 300 inmates whose sentences appear to fall under the ruling, it isn’t a get-out-of-jail-free card for all. Many of the sentences handed down already complied with the framework of the ruling, making parole eligibility a requirement; but does not guarantee parole itself. With the current day practices of police and those in the past under heavy scrutiny, perhaps the benefit of the doubt should be given to all prisoners whose crimes were committed decades ago, while they were just children. Unfortunately, the system seldom likes to admit wrong doing, and the mistakes of the past that have come to bear will serve as constant reminders of our own brutality.
Sources: Daily Mail, Philly.com.
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