Joe Ligon, The Nation’s Oldest Juvenile Lifer, Just Left PA Prison After 68 Years



The Philadelphia Inquirer: Samantha Melamed - February 11, 2021


Leaving the State Correctional Institution Phoenix in Montgomery County on Thursday morning, his white hair peeking out below a prison-issue hat, Joe Ligon was accompanied by a dozen large file boxes. That’s about 10 more boxes than regulations normally permit.


“I’m a special guy,” Ligon explained.


It’s a privilege earned over 68 years, as the oldest and longest-serving juvenile lifer in the country. He’s been imprisoned since 1953, when he was just 15 years old.


“I guess you accumulate a lot of stuff in 68 years,” said Bradley Bridge, a lawyer with the Defender Association of Philadelphia who’s represented Ligon since 2006. Having taken on the mission of getting Ligon home — first legally, then logistically — he had to scramble to fit the materials into his car, commandeering a reporter’s trunk for the overflow.


Ligon, now 83, received his life term for taking part in a spree of robbery and assaults in which two people died. Ligon admits participating in the crime with a group of drunk teens but denies killing anyone.

After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that automatic life terms for kids are cruel and unusual, he was one of more than 500 Pennsylvania prisoners all resentenced to terms contingent on lifetime parole.

But Ligon, resentenced to 35 years to life in 2017, rejected the very idea of parole after nearly seven decades in prison.


Charron, Pace, and Eleanor Myers, a senior advisor at YSRP, volunteered to assist — a process that ultimately included support from 10 city agencies, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, and various nonprofit organizations. Philadelphia’s Reentry Coalition directed Myers to Philadelphia Corporation for Aging, which found Ligon a place in domiciliary care, a foster-care-like accommodation with a family in Philadelphia.


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