Philadelphia Inquirer: Commentary: A second chance for juvenile lifers
On the afternoon of Dec. 2, in courtroom 1105 at the Philadelphia Center for Criminal Justice, I asked the man next to me how he knew Doug Hollis.
Andre McMillan smiled.
"Doug, man. He kept me out of trouble in there," he replied. "Doug taught me how to laugh, to have fun in prison." McMillan was one of Hollis' many friends in the courtroom that day. Most had been incarcerated with Hollis; all, like McMillan, credited him with changing their lives.
A few minutes later, Hollis emerged from the holding room. He is a 58-year-old African American man with a gray-speckled goatee. In his blue Department of Corrections jumpsuit, he exuded both confidence and humility.
Hollis has spent the last 40 years in prison for a crime committed in 1975, when he was 17. He was in court for something long overdue and well-deserved: a resentencing hearing that could lead to his freedom.
Hollis is one of 2,300 juvenile lifers around the country - 500 in Pennsylvania, 300 of those in Philadelphia - eligible for re-sentencing in the wake of two recent Supreme Court decisions. The first, Miller v. Alabama, in 2012 declared mandatory life sentences without parole unconstitutional for juveniles. In the majority opinion, Justice Elena Kagan wrote that "incorrigibility is inconsistent with youth" and concluded that life without parole is "at odds with a child's capacity for change."
In January, Montgomery v. Louisiana made the Miller decision retroactive, giving prisoners like Hollis hope of release after decades of hopelessness. These decisions have had a particularly profound impact in Philadelphia, home to 13 percent of the nation's juvenile lifers. Hearings here are proceeding at a pace of two to six a week.
Hollis and Warrington long not to be defined by their crimes. These are men who have spent their lives trying to atone for the horrific, stupid things they did as teenagers.
They should be given the chance. Listening to these two men's stories and the testimonies of their supporters, it is hard to fathom what keeping these men in prison will accomplish, especially considering the expense. A recent report from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University concluded that the United States wastes $20 billion in "unnecessary incarceration," partially because of especially harsh sentences.
Judge Lewis resentenced the two men to 30 years to life. Both are eligible to apply for parole immediately.