Dawkins, Street call for life-without-parole reform in Pa.

Legislation part of national “second look” investigative report

HARRISBURG, June 26 – State Rep. Jason Dawkins and Sen. Sharif Street, both D-Phila., were joined by their colleagues to push for criminal justice reform by giving some people who are serving life without parole a second chance.

“We are locking away so many positive role models that could diffuse a lot of the crime that we are seeing throughout this nation and throughout this world,” Dawkins said. “There are some powerful stories being told of experience. These lessons are the one thing young people are missing. If they have the chance to hear the experience of the folks who spent 25, 35 or even 45 years behind bars, they may make different decisions about their lives.”  

House Bill 135, sponsored by Dawkins, would provide a chance for people to get parole after serving 25 or 35 years of a life sentence, regardless of their crime. They would go before the Board of Probation and Parole and would be released on parole if they deserve it and do not present a safety risk to the public.

Dawkins added people convicted of murdering a law enforcement officer would not be eligible. The legislation also would create an Office of Reentry program to assist those who are released under the new eligibility standards.

Street, who has a companion bill (S.B. 942) in the state Senate, said their legislation highlights the growing need to reform parole for lifers in the commonwealth.

“The economic and moral imperatives of this reform are clear. Our lifers, among the most in the U.S., are diverse and include aging and geriatric prisoners too diminished in capacity to present a public risk, but who cost the most to incarcerate,” Street said. “We imprison hundreds of men and women for life who never took a life themselves but who were sentenced under Pennsylvania’s Felony Murder rule. I’m proud to join Representative Dawkins to advocate for administering smart justice in PA.”

Both H.B. 135 and S.B. 942 were part of an informational hearing held Tuesday at the state Capitol on life without parole in Pennsylvania. The hearing will be a part of a report being done to raise awareness of life without parole by the national late-night television news program, “Nightline.”