AFJ Stands with Joe Ligon, the Nation's Oldest Juvenile Lifer

AFJ Alumnus, Captain Luis Concepcion's Thoughts

Last week, the nation’s oldest juvenile lifer was released from prison being incarcerated from age 15 to age 83. Clearly all of us need to look at what we're allowing to happen in our criminal justice system. As one of the first Alternative to Incarceration (ATI) programs for youth in the country, it doesn't surprise any of us at Avenues for Justice (AFJ) that Joe Ligon is African American. Of the young people ages 13 -24  we serve at AFJ, 100% are either African American or Latinx and most can't afford lawyers.

We must all recognize that a 15-year-old - like Joe Ligon and thousands of others – deserve second chances and services instead of being forgotten behind prison walls. 95% of the youth receiving our intensive court advocacy and crime prevention services at AFJ avoid incarceration three years after enrollment. In comparison, 69% of those incarcerated in New York State are back in jail within three years. 

LISTEN TO LUIS' Full Remarks Here!

We reached out to a former AFJ participant, Luis Concepcion, to hear what his thoughts were on Joe Ligon’s story. Luis was facing 3-9 years in state prison at the age of 15 when he was brought to AFJ. After being adjudicated a youthful offender, he went on to finish high school, graduate college, and served a 25 year career in the US Marines, and retired as a Captain. Luis knows what his life could have been like if he had not had AFJ to support him.   

QUESTION: As someone who was facing up to decade in prison at age 15, how does hearing Joe’s story make you feel?

“The reality is you’re a product of your environment... Who knows what put him in that situation? Wrong place, wrong time - you don’t know whatever it may have been and his life was just taken away, it’s very sad.”

“Avenues for Justice gets down to the root of the problem and the reality is, if you grow up in an environment where you’re not supposed to succeed--like the one most us grow up in--like LES and Harlem, you’re expected to fail.”

“Did [Joe] grow up in an environment where someone could afford lawyers, someone could afford legal representation, someone educated him to the fact that when you’re arrested not to say anything? If not, you’re coerced.