Pennsylvania law allows no possibility of parole for people sentenced under first or second degree murder charges. Every judge is forced to impose a sentence of life without parole: death by prisons.

This means no allowance for the circumstances of the individual’s actions in sentencing. Whether or not a person actually took a life, or intended to take a life, does not matter. The individual may not have even been present or known it was happening.  Experience of abuse, poverty or substance problems does not matter. That most were under 25 at the time is ignored. The potential to change, grow, and transform into a person firmly committed to repair harm does not matter. 

The law assumes people do not change, and anyone deemed a danger to society will be for the remainder of their lives. Yet our communities are home to people proving the opposite every day: when many juvenile lifers were re-sentenced and released in PA, they came home and lead fights for justice, committed to improving their own lives and the lives of others.

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The resulting mass incarceration is shocking: more than 1 in 10 people serving death by incarceration sentences in the United States are in Pennsylvania prisons.

Without a doubt, this is a matter of the inherent racism the prison system is built on. Black Pennsylvanians are serving death by incarceration sentences at a rate more than 18-times higher than that of white Pennsylvanians.

There is a bill that can change this all.

Straight Ahead supports SB 135 which would allow the possibility of parole for the over 5,000 people currently serving death by incarceration sentences for first and second-degree charges. This would allow the courts and parole board to do what they are supposed to do: see the individual person, their circumstances, and their change.

SB 135 essentially eliminates life without parole sentencing. It gives the parole board power to make decisions over whether someone should be released, allowing the possibility of parole.  Everyone would be granted parole eligibility after 25 years for second degree, or 35 years for first degree. You can read a simple explanation of who is covered by the bill here.

This bill to abolish death by incarceration has strong support from grassroots organizations and from many dual victims, those who have loved ones both incarcerated and have lost loved ones to gun violence. You can support it too, by getting involved with Straight Ahead.

Help end death by incarceration sentencing​

Join the growing Pennsylvania decarceration movement for healing and redemption.