Once a month, in an ordinary brick two-story building off Route 9 in Natick, lines of people lock cell phones in their cars, hang their coats on a rack, pass through a metal detector, and climb the stairs to a hallway that leads to a space the size of a large classroom. They’ve arrived at a juvenile lifer parole hearing, where a prisoner, once sentenced as a teen, must prove that he or she has changed enough to warrant a shot at freedom. These hearings are not easy to attend or take part in—they are inevitably filled with weeping, anger, insensitivity, and sometimes forgiveness.

In Massachusetts, all lifer hearings are open to the public, but those for prisoners who were juveniles at the time of their crime are a relatively new phenomenon, and two are held on one day—one in the morning and one in the afternoon. The state became eligible for these hearings in 2013 after Diatchenko v. District Attorney, when the state’s Supreme Judicial Court ruled it unconstitutional to hand out mandatory life sentences to juveniles who commit murder.

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By. Jean Trounstine

February 20, 2015