Here within the prison, I have been working as a law clerk in the law library for many years. For the past two years, since I’ve seen the slow process of getting those in our General Assembly to come on board and support parole eligibility for lifers, I have thought of another way to “decarcerate” PA. It’s just a matter of having my idea heard by someone in the General Assembly who’d support it and have legislation created to make it happen.
I have been trying to get some attention brought the vast amount of prisoners who are sitting in these prisons for decades longer than they need to be, merely due to the time constraints placed on pro se litigants through the legislator’s 1995 amendments to the Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA). At a time when pretty much all elected officials ran political campaigns based off of “get tough on crime,” is amendment was also a product of this lock ’em up, throw away the key ideology. Yet, decades later, everyone (including those who authored and cosigned these oppressive pieces of legislation) have come to see that it had no effect on curbing, deterring or eradicating crime in any way. Rather, it served merely as fuel in the vehicle which drove our prison population in PA to unprecedented numbers.
Using these get tough on crime campaigns to play upon the fear of the communities, misleading them into believing this would make our communities safe. Again, data will show that our communities are no safer now than they were 20, 30, or even 40 years ago. Although there has been no data to suggest any of this sort of sentencing reframing by the legislators is successful in reducing crime or making communities any safer, is has nonetheless remained the go to platform when one is seeking an elected seat. Continuing to fuel the mass incarceration machine in PA. Leaving taxpayers to pay the exorbitant costs to maintain this machine.
I would be remiss not to point out who is particularly effected by these laws, minorities. While blacks make up only 13% of the state’s population, they likely make up close to 70% of the state’s DBI sentenced population (I’d have to check the numbers to get an exact). The point however, is that THIS is why a collaboration with BLM is much needed. We need to have the spotlight placed on this injustice.
While we are awaiting further movement for parole eligibility for lifers, a large number of these very same lifers are negatively impacted by the 1995 amendments to the PCRA. A state created time constraint, should NEVER serve as an impediment to a prisoner having substantial constitutional violations addressed on their merits before a court. Irrespective of the elapsed time from the constitutional violation to the point it is brought before a court. How can determinations of guilt be said to be “fair,” when there ARE women and men (myself included) who remain in these prisons, based on convictions shrouded in constitutional violations during one’s trial?
The current law wouldn’t need to be repealed. That would certainly be a huge endeavor. Having the legislation introduced amended, merely to allowing perhaps a one year time period for those who have “time-barred” substantial constitutional claims, a one time opportunity for redress, would FOR A FACT, cause the release of thousands of PA prisoners.
I want to be a part of this fight for our freedom. For redemption. As I am not the kid that I was when I came to prison at 21 years old, nearly 27 years ago. I would not be a threat to our communities, only an asset.