Our Opinion

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Commute Aging Lifers

Whatever the reason those in their teens and twenties are sentenced to life in prison, it is obvious over the years, they change dramatically, with their brains growing wiser and their bodies succumbing to the problems associated with aging. Case after case, especially in our state prisons, “old heads” have proven true the Old Amish Proverb “Too young too dumb, too wise too late”.
Associations of Lifers can be found in every one of our state prisons, formed by old heads to spread to the outside younger population the folly of violent or any other crime, the need for education, and to instill in that generation a sense of worth.
This is particularly true of Graterford Prison outside Philadelphia. Built in 1929, it is Pennsylvania’s largest maximum security7 prison, holding over 3500 prisoners. A sizeable number come from Philadelphia.
The Philadelphia Public Record has been mailing free copies weekly for years to a growing number of them in Graterford and other state prisons. This generates mail from many of them.
We take this opportunity to quote from a letter we received recently from Aaron (Haroun) Fox, with whom we have a long history.
He writes us about a Citizens For Fair Laws rally set for August 23rd at noon in front of the Governor’s office in the Bellevue Stratford.
“The rally is in protest of not funding Philadelphia schools while funding prisons. It’s children first!
“We spend $6300 each year to educate a child and $32,000 to hold one in prison, a cost which doubles after the age of 50 for medical reasons. If someone is 50 years old and doesn’t pose a threat to public safety, he should be eligible for release, with the money saved being transferred to the state treasury, earmarked for educational use only.”
Fox then cited as examples: “There is a lifer here who came to prison as a juvenile. He has been down 63 years. Another here is 80 years old, in prison for 55 years. Still another 88 years of age. How can we consider them threats?
“The money we are wasting on these three would educate 32 children which is why we continue to champion the cause to initiate a system which would evaluate such individual based on these factors: Public need for punishment, Victim need for retribution, Repentance and transformation of perpetrator, and Threat to Public Safety. These principles do nothing to remain stagnant. They need to vary depending on the case. If it is determined they are a low risk, they should be released.
“The only reason people are being held beyond the obvious need to punish them is to provide jobs in prisons located in our rural areas. Our priority should not be for making work jobs, but for educating our children. If we don’t educate them, where are they going to end up. Of Course, the answer for many of them is time in prison. “
We have publicized efforts primarily by the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus to promote such legislation, though without success.
But the drumbeat to pass commuting legislation for lifers must continue and become louder. We wonder, as does Aaron Fox, how many more of our uneducated youngsters will go to prison because of our inaction.

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