Joint state legislative hearing at SCI-Dallas focuses on prison reform

DALLAS, Aug. 23 – A joint state House-Senate Democratic Legislative Policy Committee hearing was held Wednesday at the State Correctional Institute in Luzerne County to discuss proposals aimed at reforming the state’s justice and prison systems.

Held at SCI-Dallas at the request of Rep. Jordan Harris, Rep. Donna Bullock and Sen. Sharif Street, all D-Phila., the hearing focused on S.B. 942 that would provide the possibility of parole for model prisoners serving life sentences.

The legislation would enable someone sentenced to life imprisonment to be considered for parole after spending at least 15 years in prison. The state Board of Probation and Parole could still reject parole requests from those who do not deserve it or pose a safety risk to the public. Rep. Jason Dawkins, D-Phila., has introduced companion legislation (H.B. 135) in the House of Representatives.

Harris, chairman of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus and co-sponsor of the recently-enacted clean slate law, said: “Yesterday's policy hearing and tour of SCI-Dallas was a historic moment. Both House and Senate Democratic Policy committees along with the PLBC joined to hear from a group of constituents often forgotten about. In this time of fiscal crisis, it's the legislature's responsibility to ensure that we are good stewards of taxpayer dollars. There is much cost saving that can come from the Department of Corrections while keeping communities safe. Lengthy yet unwarranted sentences have increased DOC's budget without providing any true benefits to our communities. Mass incarceration must end and must end now.”

Street, author of S.B. 942, said: “I was encouraged by more than a dozen legislators who joined me for a historic joint policy hearing at SCI-Dallas on Senate Bill 942, ending life without parole in PA. Direct testimony underscored the need for parole reform from both a fiscal and moral standpoint. We must empower the Parole Board to address the life sentences of battered women defending themselves and the numerous ‘lifers’ who have not taken a life.”

Testifying were life-sentence inmates: Robert Pezzeca, Bryant Hudgins, John Bowen, Jamar Sowell and Rahmee Green. Also testifying were:

•           Keir Bradford-Grey, Defender Association of Philadelphia;

•           Brooke McCarthy, Juvenile Life Without Parole Fellow, Juvenile Law Center;

•           Claire Shubik-Richards, Executive Director, PA Prison Society;

•           Bobby Harris, Former Juvenile Lifer and Former SCI Dallas Lifer’s Association President;

•           Elizabeth Geyer, Member, Coalition to Abolish Death by Incarceration; and

•           Titus Moolathara, Librarian for Stories Alive Program, Free Library of Philadelphia.