Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name


Organizational Unit

Graduate School of Social Work

First Advisor

Shannon Sliva

Second Advisor

Terri Davis

Third Advisor

Anthony Fulginiti

Fourth Advisor

Inna Altschul

Fifth Advisor

Jeffrey Shook


Juvenile life without parole, Juvenile lifers, Life sentences, Mental health, Re-entry, Trauma-informed


Over 2,100 individuals serving juvenile life without paroles (JLWOP) sentences in the U.S. became eligible for resentencing following the 2016 Montgomery v. Louisiana Supreme Court ruling. Michigan housed an estimated 370 juvenile lifers at that time, the second largest JLWOP community in the country and has since resentenced and released approximately 120 juvenile lifers. Folx released from prison encounter many barriers to successful re-entry. Barriers are often amplified for those incarcerated as adolescents. Further, services are de-prioritized for folx serving JLWOP sentences, which can be especially damaging for this community whose life experiences are marked by high rates of trauma, disadvantage, and instability. Yet, they also demonstrate resilience in the face of such challenges. This mixed-methods study utilized an innovative, traumainformed protocol to explore lifespan experiences among Michigan’s JLWOP community and identify critical intervention points for successful re-entry and sustained desistance.

A cross-section of former juvenile lifers (N=21), represented by Michigan’s State Appellate Defender Office (SADO) were recruited for this study. A single, in-person interview was conducted with each participant, designed to elicit experiences from birth to present and included quantitative measures of mental health, coping, trauma exposure, and employment readiness. The qualitative, life events interview (LEI) protocol empowered participants to narrate their life story in collaboration with the principal investigator who documented a visual representation of the narrative. The visual representation also provided a temporal framework for the study.

All participants endorsed deep histories of trauma, marginalization, socioeconomic disadvantage, and environmental vulnerabilities. Participants also described resilience through education, interpersonal relationships, giving back, and mentoring. All reported dynamic journeys of transformation that started as early as four years into their sentence. Five critical intervention points along the criminal legal spectrum are recommended from this study—two prior to incarceration, two during incarceration, and one at re-entry. Findings suggest interventions should engage a trauma-informed approach and take place at multiple levels—individual, community, and system—to best support folx returning from long-term sentences, including JLWOP. This dissertation provides a detailed description of the innovative interview protocol, critical intervention points, and highlights implications for social work research, practice, and policy.

Publication Statement

Copyright is held by the author. User is responsible for all copyright compliance.

Rights Holder

Daphne M. Brydon


Received from ProQuest

File Format




File Size

180 pgs


Social work, Criminology