Criminal Justice Issues in PA
CHANGES ON PA’S DEATH ROW
Announced just about a few weeks ago, a federal lawsuit alleging unconstitutional use of solitary confinement occurring on the State’s two Death Row Units, was settled. As a result, dramatic changes will be occurring! No longer will the 136 men, condemned to death, be locked in their cells 23 hours a day; instead the unit will be open, allowing the men to be out of their cells at least 42.5 hours per week. Men will be allowed time to socialize, obtain jobs, eat together, attend planned programming sessions and religious services, exercise in a yard [rather than a cage], to sleep in cells with lights off, and to have clear windows in their cells. In addition, this past summer, contact visits have been instituted without incident or problem. Imagine, many of these men who have had little to no human contact [many for decades] can now visit with family and friends without a pane of glass between them. Thanks to ACLU-PA, Abolitionist Law Project and two private law firms who successfully litigated an agreement that has resulted in what is likely to be the most progressive changes in any Death Row in the US.
Simply put, Prison Gerrymandering allows those counties with state prisons, to count incarcerated persons as residents of that county. This practice violates the one person, one vote doctrine; that a prisoner’s residence should be determined by his or her address before entering prison. Prison Gerrymandering negatively impacts counties with high numbers of incarcerated persons [i.e., Philadelphia and Allegheny] who are incarcerated in rural, more densely populated counties. In their seminal study, Brianna Remster and Rory Kramer found, “…incarceration shifts political power from urban districts to suburban and rural districts through legislative apportionment. Moreover, non-White communities suffer the most.…Our findings fit a growing literature on the role of mass incarceration in [re]producing racial inequalities in the contemporary United States.”
At this time, the 2020 Census will see this practice continue. State Representative Joanna McClinton [D-Phila] has submitted legislation that would undo this rule.
Since John Fetterman has become the State’s Lieutenant Governor, he has kick-started many changes impacting how the Pardon Board does its business! These changes include:
1. Eliminating the application fee.
2. Eliminating the applicant having to obtain any criminal records in order to submit application.
3. Hiring an exonerated person to be Secretary of the Board [Brandon Flood].
4. Streamlining the application process.
5. Hiring two recently exonerated lifers to be “commutation specialists” working directly for the Lieutenant Governor: George Trudel and Naomi Blount.
6. Improving communication between the Board and applicants [and their families].
7. Creation of an “under advisement” decision [in addition to “recommended” and “not recommended] that provides the Board additional time to make a decision after the open hearing.
8. Touring state prisons to provide educational sessions for the lifer populations.
9. Providing an opportunity for an individual, who received a “not recommended” decision, to request Board approval to submit early re-consideration application [typical wait time is 2 years].
To learn more: https://www.bop.pa.gov/Pages/default.aspx
IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU [ITCHY-PA]
Since 1989, 110 men and women have been exonerated from PA prisons; 2522 individual nationwide—that is 22,315 years lost! Philadelphia DA’s Conviction Integrity Unit [CIU] has been pivotal in the exoneration of a number of individuals over the past two years. ITCHY, an organization that originates from New York, focuses on bringing change as to how criminal exonerations are managed. In New York, ITCHY was successful in getting legislation passed to create a Commission on Prosecutorial Misconduct. In PA, ITCHY has a 3-fold initiative: compensation for exonerees, expungement of records, and creation of a Commission on Prosecutorial Misconduct. State Representative Christopher Rabb [D-Phila] anticipates submitting legislation soon, that will provide compensation for exonerees. Several exonerees are participating in this effort. ITCHY-PA is gaining momentum and anticipates a busy year ahead. Contact via Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
COMPASSIONATE RELEASE/MEDICAL PAROLE/AGING OUT INITIATIVES
In Fall 2018 State Representative Steven Kinsey [D-Phila], Chair of Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus, submitted legislation that would modify the current medical parole laws. The Bill is weak; most notable because it eliminates the population that would be most likely to seek these remedies; lifers and virtual lifers. The Gray Panthers, an organization located at SCI-Phoenix, worked with Representative Kinsey to make his Bill more applicable for a larger portion of the prisoner population, and includes a provision for aging out incarcerated seniors. This revised Bill has not yet been submitted. In the meantime, State Senator Lisa Baker [R-Northhampton], Chair of the Judiciary Committee, is reportedly working with the Pennsylvania Prison Society in drafting similar legislation, although nothing has been submitted yet. Medical Parole and Compassionate Release regulations need revision as the current practices are cumbersome, time consuming and costly. Not waiting for the laws to change, a new collaborative has been assembled that brings together various disciplines [law, nursing, social work] to coordinate efforts in getting those in need of compassionate release to be accommodated as quickly as possible.
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