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PITTSBURGH: On Friday November 12 at 11:30am at the Pittsburgh City County Building, state legislators and formerly incarcerated leaders will all gather to speak in support of a new decarceration bill. SB 835 would provide parole opportunities to aging and chronically ill people who are incarcerated. Senators Bartolotta and Costa and Representatives Lee and Innamorato will represent this bipartisan bill.
Pittsburgh residents are showing their desire to dismantle mass incarceration. A recent referendum banned solitary confinement in the Allegheny County Jail. Chemical and militaristic weapons were also banned at the jail. All in the last year. Now, demand is rising to decarcerate our prisons and bring home our elders.
Straight Ahead, along with formerly incarcerated leaders and family members of incarcerated people, will rally at the Pittsburgh City County Building to support SB 835. The new bipartisan geriatric and medical parole bill introduced by Senator Street would allow any person 55+ years of age who has served 25 years or half their sentence, whichever comes first, to be parole eligible. The bill also allows people who have a chronic medical condition, either a physical or mental illness, a chance at parole. After a pandemic that impacted over 11,000 incarcerated people in PA, left 141 dead and continues to put more at risk, we can’t wait to act.
“We are stronger communities with our elders and grandparents home,” says Robert Saleem Holbrook, the executive director of Straight Ahead. “This is about public safety: we know that people over 55 have the lowest recidivism rates, and chances of re-offending decline with age. No one is guaranteed release under this bill. The people we see coming home are elders, mentors and leaders working to keep others on the right path.”
This is a game-changing bill for Pennsylvania. Thousands are aging in Pennsylvania’s prisons due to some of the harshest sentencing and mandatory minimums in the world. The geriatric prison population has quadrupled over the last 25 years. Over ten thousand incarcerated people in PA are considered geriatric. That is not due to an uptick in crime by seniors, but due to the aging of the prison population.
Those over 55 are considered geriatric on the inside because people’s lifespans are much shorter in prisons. Oppressive conditions, poor nutrition and healthcare, severe stress, and risk of violence end lives early. These people are continuing to age and many have ailing health, unable to get adequate care and end their lives surrounded by family. Commutation and medical release are both nearly extinct, with most people ending their lives in special prison hospices.
“Freeing our elders and medically vulnerable people is one of the moral imperatives of our generation” says community organizer Jennifer Black. “We will either fulfill our mission, or betray it.”
The press conference is hosted by community organizers from Straight Ahead, its parent organization Abolitionist Law Center, 1Hood, the Alliance for Police Accountability, the Coalition to Abolish Death By Incarceration (CADBI), the Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network and Decarceration Bloc.