By April Barber Scales (Justice League Fellow) and Anthony Willis

We have been free — out of prison — for two years. If you had asked us five years ago if we would be where we are now, we would have said no. Both of us were convicted as juveniles (15 and 16 years old) in unrelated murder cases and spent a collective 56 years behind bars. But we never stopped trying to show that we were more than our worst acts and that we didn’t deserve to spend another half-century incarcerated. 

Today, thanks to Gov. Roy Cooper’s Juvenile Sentence Review Board (JSRB), we have been given a second chance. During this Second Chance Month, we urge the governor to extend that grace to more people, for there are hundreds just like us.

As children, we made horrible mistakes. We were both tried and sentenced as adults and did not think we would ever see freedom again. Still, we tried to make the best of our situation. As we grew into adults while incarcerated, we committed ourselves to rehabilitation. 

According to data from the Wilson Center for Science and Justice at Duke Law, there were 325 people eligible for JSRB review after serving at least 15 years in prison. So far, 117 of those people have submitted petitions to the Juvenile Sentence Review Board, and more than 70 of them are still waiting for a decision. Only six have had their petitions approved. Gov. Cooper’s executive order establishing the reviews expires Dec. 31, 2024. At that point, those 70 people — people just as, if not even more deserving as us — will have lost this unique opportunity for their second chance. 

When the governor commuted our sentences, he said “North Carolina law continues to change to recognize that science is even more clear about immature brain development and decision-making in younger people. As people become adults, they can change, turn their lives around, and engage as productive members of society.

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