February 6th: Get Involved in the Fight for Second Chances in PA

A flier reads 'Free Our Coalition Space: Join Us Virtually Every 3rd Tuesday at 6 PM

Should our society permanently seal off people who cause harm from the rest of us? Or should the goal of our criminal legal system be accountability, rehabilitation and healing?

Currently Pennsylvania is one of the leading states in the country in sentencing people to die in prison. Second only to Florida, our Commonwealth currently incarcerates over 8,200 people on either life without parole sentences or ‘virtual’ life sentences which will incarcerate people until they die of ill health or old age. If Philadelphia was considered as its own geographic area along with all of the states in the country, it would have the fifth highest number of people sentenced to life without parole.

That’s why we are joining with our allies in Straight Ahead to get people organized to speak directly to politicians about why we need to change the law and create a pathway home for people who have turned around their lives. Sign up here to come out on Tuesday, February 21st at 6 PM for the Free Our People Coalition and learn how you can get involved.

This system tears communities apart. Children grow up traveling hours across the state to visit their parents in the confines of a prisons visiting room. One day they will bring their children their to meet their incarcerated grandparent. Incarcerated people watch their loved ones grow old throughout the years and cannot be there to care for them when they are ill or to memorialize them when they pass. There are thousands of stories of people being kept from their loved ones in extreme moments of need. Does our society benefit from fraying at the bonds of family by keeping people from each other?

In 2016 a Supreme Court ruling ordered Pennsylvania and other states who had sentenced children to mandatory life without parole to resentence them giving many a second chance. Over the course of the next several years courts resentenced and released hundreds of people and the results have been extraordinary. 279 of the 477 juvenile lifers who have been resentenced have been granted parole.A 2020 study from Montclair university that was repeated in 2022 found that of all juvenile lifers released to Philadelphia they had a recidivism rate of 1%, one of the lowest rates of recidivism of any category of person released from prison. People who have spent decades in prison and who are growing older generally do not squander a second chance if given to them.

The low risk of re-offense coupled with the high human cost of the practice of perpetual punishment and incarceration lead many to believe that it’s a common sense measure to create mechanisms, such as parole eligibility, that give people a second look and, if they’ve turned around their lives, the possibility of a second chance. However, different forces oppose efforts to change the system. The Pennsylvania District Attorney’s Association, a powerful group of every district attorney outside of Philadelphia which is commonly known as the lobby of mass incarceration, routinely speaks against many second chance bills in Pennsylvania. While we’ve seen some promising shifts on their part they are still a ways from embracing common sense measures such as geriatric parole.

When we and others in our movement family started work to end death by incarceration years ago there were no bills in the PA General Assembly that offered second chances, but things are starting to change. Now, legislation that would create parole eligibility for lifers, parole for people aging in prison, medical parole for those who are severely ill and other forms of relief has been introduced in Harrisburg. Furthermore the door of the Board of Pardons that was firmly shut has cracked open and over 50 people sentenced to life without parole were granted their freedom. We have begun to move the needle and to bring about precious freedom victories.

However, there is a long way to go. Join us in making the journey and creating pathways home for people who have turned around their lives. Sign up here to come to the Free Our People coalition meeting on Tuesday, February 21st at 6PM and get involved in the movement for second chances.



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