Activists model transformative justice as juvenile lifer heads to court

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Mike Lyons, 267-217-3372

Sentenced to die in prison as a teen, Kempis ‘Ghani’ Songster has a chance to come home

PHILADELPHIA, PA (June 19, 2017) On July 24th, Kempis ‘Ghani’ Songster will be one of the first Philadelphians serving Juvenile Life Without Parole (JLWOP) to go before the court for a fully contested resentencing hearing. Songster is eligible for resentencing after a U.S. Supreme Court decision rendered mandatory Life Without Parole sentences unconstitutional for children under the age of 18.

But Songster and his supporters are also looking to model a different kind of justice -- one that asks the community, not the courts, how someone can truly be accountable to harm they have caused, and what it takes for a community to heal. On July 23rd at 3pm at Arch Street Methodist Church (55 N. Broad Street), community members, activists, and supporters and family of Ghani will gather for a “Community Resentencing,” to determine what they believe justice should look like in this case.

“Only when all of us, our whole community — families and friends of victims, families and friends of the condemned, those who are or we're themselves condemned, and survivors of violence — take responsibility for solving our community's problems TOGETHER will the healing begin,” says Songster.

The ‘Community Resentencing’ will include testimony from Ghani’s friends and family, as well as people he has worked with during his incarceration. Then, participants will break into groups to discuss the issues and determine what they believe is a just sentence.

“While at Graterford, Ghani has served as an incredible mentor and activist to so many people inside and outside of prison,” said Mrs. Dee-Dee Haw of the Coalition to Abolish Death By Incarceration. “Our communities, and this city, would benefit immensely from having him come home.”

Songster was sentenced to die behind bars for a crime he committed when he was only 15. Now he and approximately 500 other people who were sentenced to mandatory life without parole as children are again getting their day in court. But many worry that the Philadelphia courts are not handling the resentencing process fairly.

“The District Attorney’s office has been offering everyone deals of 35 years to life, regardless of the individual circumstances in their case,” said Sean Damon of the Amistad Law Project. “These incredibly harsh sentences look more like an assembly line than like genuine compliance with the spirit of the Supreme Court decision. That’s why we will pack the court for Ghani and others, to send a clear message that everyone deserves a second chance.”

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The Community Resentencing is sponsored By Coalition to Abolish Death By Incarceration, the Amistad Law Project, The Redemption Project and Friends of Ghani