Paid Internship Oppertunity

 

Paid Summer internships with Fight for Lifers West, a project of the Thomas Merton Center.

Fight for Lifers West is an advocacy group with a goal of ending the life sentence in PA. We advocate for lifer inmates and their loved ones, discuss ways to effect change and offer support. We believe that Life With-Out Parole is both archaic and inhumane. It violates Article 8 of the U.S. Constitution against cruel and unusual punishment. Therefore, changes in PA law need to be implemented. We try to recruit others, enlist public support and contact members of the PA Legislature when we feel laws need to be changed.

 

Over the summer we will be focusing on our Pittsburgh Public School Project. This project is a creative summary provided from our students regarding their district's disciplinary policies and how it affects them.

Our secondary focus of the summer are our commutation information trips in which we provide presentations about shortening sentences at our state's institutions. We emphasize the importance of solidarity within all movements and strengthening the bonds between the black and brown communities in Pittsburgh.

 

Interns will receive a stipend of $110 per week for up to five weeks. This position offers interns a chance to gain experience in legislation, delegation, creative expression regarding social change, and possible travel to Harrisburg or Philadelphia.

To apply, complete this form. Contact Gabriel@thomasmertoncenter.org with any questions.

http://thomasmertoncenter.org/get-active/intern-inquiry/

Prison Work Stoppage to End Prison Slavery

"This is a call for a nation-wide prisoner work stoppage to end prison slavery, starting on September 9th, 2016. They cannot run these facilities without us." 

 

Fight for Lifers West is supporting a nationwide strike against prison labor[1].  Pennsylvania has one of the highest amounts of JLWOP in America[2]. These juveniles have jobs in these facilities which pay less than $1 an hour. In one instance, a judge was sending an alarming amount of kids off to prison with long sentences for crimes as simple as stealing. It was found that he was sending the juveniles to prison so that a local business could use them for cheap manufacturing labor[3].

Large businesses are exploiting communities of people, making money off of the overly harsh punishment of others, and profiting off of mass incarceration. Prison jobs provide little to none of the outside world experience that incarcerated individuals needs to escape recidivism. They cost workers and unions decent jobs. They do not insure provision for those inside who are working; individuals in State County Prisons sometimes can barely afford to buy basic amenities on their wages. This is an affront to Humanity and the 13th Amendment, it is modern day American Slavery.

Which is why on Sept. 9th there will be a press conference to engage the public on this issue and a rally against the companies who profit off of prison labor. More info to come. 

 

 

[1]Announcement of Nationally Coordinated Prisoner Workstoppage for Sept 9, 2016. <https://iwoc.noblogs.org/post/2016/04/01/announcement-of-nationally-coordinated-prisoner-workstoppage-for-sept-9-2016/>

[2]Map Jueveniles Serving Life With Out Parole in the U.S. <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/whenkidsgetlife/etc/map.html>

[3] Luzurne County Kids-For-Cash-Scandal. <http://jlc.org/luzerne-county-kids-cash-scandal>

Slow Death Row

 

By: Martha Conley

    The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has more youthful offenders (juveniles under 18 years old) serving life sentences without parole (LWOP) than any other state in the union and any other country in the world. Our legislature decided that sentencing juveniles to LWOP was a good idea based on the theory in the 1980’s that a generation of “super predators” was emerging.  Most of these super predators were black, of course.  The sociologists have since repudiated the theory, admitting that they were wrong, but approximately 524 people who were sentenced as juveniles are still rotting on life row. The Commonwealth claims there are 500 juvenile lifers, 300 sentenced in Philadelphia County.  Joseph Heckle, a member of the organization, Fight for Lifers, and longtime advocate for juvenile lifers has identified 524.   Pennsylvania is one of the few states with no minimum age for LWOP.

    Some of these kids, some as young as 14 when sent to adult prisons among sexual predators, were sentenced under the felony murder rule which required a mandatory LWOP sentence when a person is involved in the commission of a felony where someone dies, whether they actually killed the victim or not. “Involved” in this context can mean you were sitting in a car when your adult friend or cousin or uncle went into a store and killed someone unbeknownst to you.  Involved can also mean an accident.  Trina Garnett was 14 when she accidently caused a fire, which killed two children, and she received a mandatory LWOP sentence for arson murder.  She is now 54 years old and, of course, still on slow death row going on 40 years.  For women in Pennsylvania a LWOP sentence can result from defending yourself from an abusive husband or sexual predator.

    Now the good news…The United States Supreme Court in 2012 found in the case of Miller v. Alabama mandatory LWOP sentences for juveniles cruel and unusual and thus, unconstitutional.  The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, not known for its compassion, especially when it comes to black people as revealed by recent racist emails, decided that the decision was not retroactive.  Also, since then, some juveniles in Pennsylvania have been sentenced to 60 years in prison.  Let’s see, 60 plus 14 is 74.

    Lucky for PA juveniles, the U.S. Supreme Court came to the rescue again in Montgomery v. Louisiana and issued a decision on January 25, 2016 that its earlier decision was indeed retroactive.   The 524 people on life row in Pennsylvania now will have the opportunity to be resentenced and/or considered for parole. The Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole has taken the position that it is unable to grant parole to persons sentenced to life, suggesting a two-step process likely involving resentencing and then possibly parole.  Let’s hope they are not resentenced to 60 years.  This is especially the case for juveniles who were sentenced under the felony murder rule and who did not kill anyone.  Some Pennsylvania legislators and judges seem more concerned about being re-elected than being fair.  The desire to seem “tough on crime” seems to have reached a tipping point.  Hopefully, it will not be a death knell to a political campaign to show compassion to people, many of whom have been damaged by our society.  In this process we may find that we have far fewer victims of violent crime.  The money we spend incarcerating people for life would be better spent compensating victims of violent crime and providing decent lives for the homeless.  

 

If all 524 people sentenced as juveniles ended up spending at least 60 years in prison, before dying, the Commonwealth would spend almost a billion dollars incarcerating them at a cost of $30, 000 per inmate, per year. Including the 524 people sentenced as juveniles, there are roughly 5000 people in total serving life sentences in Pennsylvania. “Life” in Pennsylvania is life without parole.  There are undoubtedly some inmates who should remain incarcerated for the rest of their lives.  However, since Miller v. Alabama, judges are no longer required to sentence juveniles to LWOP for felony murder.  They now have the discretion to consider each case based on the facts uncovered at trial. Judges should consider the age of the accused at the time of the crime, the circumstances surrounding the crime, and his or her potential for rehabilitation.  


Martha Conley is an Attorney in Pittsburgh, an Official Visitor of the PA Prison Society and Co-Chair of Pennsylvanians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty

JLWOP A New Hope

Now is the time to put in our efforts, now the the ball has started to roll in the direction of progress as 

"The Supreme Court ruled Monday that those sentenced as teenagers to mandatory life imprisonment for murder must have a chance to argue that they should be released from prison.

The ruling expanded the court’s 2012 decision that struck down mandatory life terms without parole for juveniles and said it must be applied retroactively to what juvenile advocates estimate are 1,200 to 1,500 cases." - Robert Barnes, Washington Post. 

Now is the time to show our join forces and let our legislators know that we care about our incarcerated, we can't be apathetic.