Sunday, November 1, 2015
Hidden in not-so-plain sight
Attendees were cordially invited to do time sitting in a replica of "the hole." Just about the scariest Halloween Day prank I can think of.
What I find most disturbing is that as a nation we have bought into the callous philosophy that it's OK just to throw human beings away. Toss them into the dumpster and forget about them. While we constantly assert that ours is a Christian society, we reject the Master’s teaching that “there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent" (Lk 15:7). Priding ourselves on being just and law-abiding, we really resemble those reproved by Jesus for “load[ing] people down with burdens they can hardly carry," while we "will not lift one finger to help them” (Lk 11:46). The released prisoner is also our neighbor . . . but we don’t want him (or her) in our backyard.
The representative from The Pennsylvania Prison Society (founded by Benjamin Franklin and other Enlightenment humanitarians) shed a ray of light and hope on the discussion, reminding us that the tide is turning. Both Democratic and Republican legislators are beginning to coalesce around the issue of criminal justice reform. She urged us to track and support proposed legislation, such as PA Senate Bill 166, sponsored by Senator Stewart Greanleaf. If enacted, this law
would allow individuals who have served a sentence for nonviolent third and second degree misdemeanors to petition the court for expungement of their criminal records after at least seven years without a new offense.
“A low-level misdemeanor in one’s past is often a barrier when seeking employment, long after they have completed their sentence,” said Senator Greenleaf. “A number of states are expanding their expungement laws to reduce the period during which a minor criminal record can punish people.”
This legislation is expected to help counter high rates of recidivism, relieve an overburdened pardon system, and provide more opportunities for ex-offenders to join the workforce.(see http://www.senatorgreenleaf.com/2015/02/24/senate-passes-greenleafs-legislation-to-expunge-minor-criminal-records/)
However, as someone once said, no one ever lost an election by claiming to be tough on crime. Concerned citizens must also oppose legislation that heaps more financial burdens on those incarcerated, such as PA House Bill 1089, entitled "In sentencing, further providing for collection of restitution, reparation, fees, costs, fines, and penalties." This proposed law would allow for the confiscation of money from a prisoner's trust fund to pay for fees and other items.
Finally be sure to watch the VICE special report Fixing the System, too. We watched it last evening. Because we just can't get enough of this stuff. :-)