Study shows low recidivism rates among released Philly juvenile lifers

(Flickr/Matthias Müller)

By The Philadelphia Tribune

PHILADELPHIA — A new study from researchers at Montclair State University shows that approximately 1.14% of people who were sentenced to life in prison as juveniles in Philadelphia and later released were convicted of another crime later.

“This study confirms what we already knew from criminology: Longer sentences do not protect public safety; it’s the likelihood of being caught and the swiftness of punishment that actually deter crime,” Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner said. “Even people who commit monstrous acts very young are not monsters. Overwhelmingly, they evolve. Overwhelmingly, they are capable of growth and change, and can safely be brought home. People who have been incarcerated for decades following offenses committed while they were young are especially deserving of a second look in the middle of a public health pandemic that is crippling communities and economies across Pennsylvania and throughout the country.”

Krasner said it is “irresponsible to allow any population of people who don’t need to be in close proximity to become a virus incubator, whether in senior homes, industrial and retail locations, or in jails and prisons. The public safety of every one of us depends on stopping the virus from spreading everywhere.”

Krasner for weeks has called for the release of some prisoners from Philadelphia jails, to reduce the risk of those prisoners being exposed to the coronavirus.

Krasner and researchers from Montclair State University shared the details of the study in a virtual news conference on Thursday.

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The study looked at the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office’s approach to juvenile lifer resentencing under two different administrations, starting in 2017 after a U.S. Supreme Court decision made juvenile lifers automatically eligible for resentencing.

The study examined the approach each administration had to reviewing cases and examined the impact of release decisions on public safety.

Researchers analyzed data and outcomes associated with 269 juvenile lifers from the city, including 174 who were released.

Of the 38 cases that were considered by both administrations, the study found that Krasner offered new sentences that were on average roughly 11 years shorter than initial offers by former District Attorney Seth Williams.

The 174 juvenile lifers who were released through the time of the study will yield $9.5 million in correctional cost savings over the first decade based on marginal costs of incarceration alone, the study said. It costs approximately $50,000 a year to incarcerate people in prisons and jails, but those savings will only be realized by shrinking the footprint of incarceration, including closing additional jails and prison.

“Our work brings into question the commonly held belief that those incarcerated for violent offenses will reoffend. Here we have a group of individuals, all convicted of murder, with an approximately 1 percent reconviction rate,” said Tarika Daftary-Kapur, a lead study author and Justice Studies associate professor at Montclair State University in a statement.

“We hope these findings will help inform discussions around early release of individuals serving long sentences, especially in the current climate, study co-author Tina Zottoli added in a statement.

This story first appeared in the Philadelphia Tribune, a publishing partner of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star.