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In Philadelphia, a community-based program teaches defendants how to help themselves

October 5, 2018, Annette John-Hall - WHYY

"Austin didn’t know much about how the legal system worked when he was charged and sentenced. And more knowledge probably would not have changed the outcome of his case. But with a greater awareness, he says, he could have presented himself as someone worthy of redemption.

'Oftentimes when you’re in the courtroom, what happens is the judge doesn’t know you, the attorney really doesn’t know you. It’s the community of people you live in, they know you,' he said.

In April 2017, Austin was released from prison after serving 42 years. After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2016 that its 2012 ban on mandatory life-without-parole sentences for “juvenile lifers” must be applied retroactively, he was resentenced to time served.

The decades in prison have left him humbled.

'I have a greater understanding of what has happened … You understand the magnitude of, not just how you have wronged this person, but his family, his friends, his relatives,” said Austin. “They’ll never get to see their loved ones again. As blessed as I feel to get this second opportunity to have a life outside the prison, my victim will never get that chance.'

Now on parole, Austin works as a facilitator at the 'participatory defense' program run by the Defender Association of Philadelphia. The community-based justice initiative, launched in March, helps people charged with crimes better advocate for themselves."

Read the full piece here!

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