Released After 63 Years In Prison

  • Joseph Ligon, 79, is the oldest living juvenile offender who has also served the longest sentence of any other juvenile offender
  • At age 16, he took part in the murder of two men in Philadelphia
  • Ligon was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole 
  • A recent US Supreme Court decision deemed mandatory life sentences for juvenile offender unconstitutional
  • That gave Ligon an opportunity to be placed on parole immediately, but he declined on principle 

A man who was sent to jail for a crime he committed when he was just 15 years old has been released following a 68-year sentence.

Joe Ligon was one of a group of drunk teens who went on a robbery and assault spree that ended in the deaths of two people and six more being stabbed.

In 1953, Ligon, who was illiterate, pled guilty to two counts of first-degree murder – although Ligon has claimed he didn’t take part in the murders – and was given a life sentence.

Credit: PA Department of Corrections
Credit: PA Department of Corrections

In 2017 his sentence was reduced to 35-years to life after the Supreme Court ruled that an automatic life term for child offenders are ‘cruel and unusual’.

Despite the ruling, Ligon didn’t immediately apply for parole as he didn’t want to have to be monitored following his release.

Speaking to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Ligon said: “I like to be free.

“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.”

But last week, aged 83, Ligon was released from State Correctional Institution Phoenix in Montgomery County – a free man.

Ligon was released after he and lawyer Bradley Bridge, from the Defender Association of Philadelphia, started a legal battle to have him released outright.

It took more than three years, but in November last year a judge ruled that Ligon should be released.

As you can imagine after so long behind bars, Ligon is somewhat overwhelmed by how much the city of Philadelphia has changed.

He told the newspaper: “I’m looking at all the tall buildings.

“This is all new to me. This never existed.”

But despite spending the last six decades behind bars, Ligon is optimistic and confident about his future.

“I like my chances,” he said. “I really like my chances in terms of surviving.”

Commenting on the case, Bridge said: “We waste people’s lives by over-incarcerating and we waste money by over-incarcerating.

“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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