Oldest Juvenile Lifer In US Released From Prison After 68 Years

by : Cameron Frew on : 14 Feb 2021 16:07
Oldest Juvenile Lifer In US Released From Prison After 68 YearsJuvenile-In-Justice/PA Department of Corrections

Joe Ligon, the oldest juvenile lifer, has been released from prison after 68 years behind bars.

Ligon was 15 when he was sentenced to life for taking part in a spree of robbery and assaults that left two people dead and six others stabbed. However, he’s long denied killing anyone.


On Thursday, February 11, at the age of 83, he walked free from the State Correctional Institution – Phoenix in Montgomery County.

As he left prison, he was accompanied by a dozen large file boxes, as per The Philadelphia Inquirer. Usually, exiting inmates aren’t allowed so many, but Ligon said, ‘I’m a special guy.’

Bradley Bridge, a lawyer with the Defender Association of Philadelphia who has defended Ligon since 2006, added, ‘I guess you accumulate a lot of stuff in 68 years.’


Ligon’s sentence was reduced to 35 years to life back in 2017, as part of a mass resentencing after the US Supreme Court ruled that automatic life terms for children were ‘cruel and unusual’. However, unlike others who sought parole, Ligon wasn’t so keen – even after nearly seven decades.

He explained, ‘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.’

A judge finally ordered Ligon’s release in November last year. ‘We waste people’s lives by over-incarcerating and we waste money by over-incarcerating. His case graphically demonstrates the absurdity of wasting each,’ Bridge said.


He added, ‘Hopefully his release, and the release of the juvenile lifers in general, will cause a re-evaluation of the way we incarcerate people.’

In order to prepare himself for a world he’d left nearly 70 years ago, he watched the news on a small TV in his cell. ‘I like my chances. I really like my chances in terms of surviving,’ he said.

After being freed, looking out an elevator, he peered out to a completely different city, saying, ‘I’m looking at all the tall buildings. This is all new to me. This never existed.’


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Cameron Frew

After graduating from Glasgow Caledonian University with an NCTJ and BJTC-accredited Multimedia Journalism degree, Cameron ventured into the world of print journalism at The National, while also working as a freelance film journalist on the side, becoming an accredited Rotten Tomatoes critic in the process. He's now left his Scottish homelands and taken up residence at UNILAD as a journalist.

Topics: News, Legal, prison, US


The Philadelphia Inquirer
  1. The Philadelphia Inquirer

    The nation’s oldest juvenile lifer, Joe Ligon, left a Pa. prison after 68 years