Urgent: Voice Your Opposition to SB 850 Now !

Many thanks to everyone who called in on October 4th. Now is the time to keep the pressure up!

Decarcerate is calling for everyone to contact their legislators and ask them to vote against the juvenile sentencing amendment to SB 850. We are encouraging folks to flood the phone lines from now until the bill gets voted on (Oct 17th at the earliest). Call, write, email, fax, and tweet that we demand no life sentences for Pennsylvania's youth.  Click here for a sample letter.


Find contact info for your legislators here: http://guide.seventy.org/#stateOfficials

Greetings Decarcerate PA Friends, Supporters and Allies:

 We are reaching out to you today with an urgent action alert concerning legislation that was introduced to the General Assembly this week that should be urgently and strongly opposed. We are calling on you to immediately write and call your legislators urging them to vote against the juvenile sentencing amendment in SB 850. Please also encourage all your friends, family, and colleagues to do the same. If you are part of an organization of any kind, get your organization to sign on to the collective letter of opposition to this bill that has been generated by the PA Coalition for the Fair Sentencing of Youth. You can find this letter at: http://bit.ly/jlwop_850

 It is critical that we act on this issue as quickly as possible, since the General Assembly is poised to vote on this bill within a matter of mere days or weeks. By passing this bill, Pennsylvania would miss a major opportunity to reform our sentencing laws in a way that could provide real, meaningful relief for young people charged in the adult criminal justice system. For further context and information on the SB 850 amendment, please see below. For a detailed set of action steps, including sample text and call scripts, please see attached.

Decarcerate PA is also organizing a statewide call-in day to legislators for Thursday, Oct 4. Please mark your calendars and expect to receive further details on that soon.

 Thanks as always for your efforts and support, as well as your dedication to a vision of society that extends humanity, resources, and the possibility of transformation to all of its members.

 Decarcerate PA

As many of you likely already know, on June 25, 2012, the United States Supreme Court declared in Miller v. Alabama that mandatory life without parole sentences for children violate the 8th Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. The Supreme Court’s decision in Miller is especially important in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania currently has more individuals serving life without parole sentences for crimes they committed as children than anywhere else in the world. While other states have reformed their sentencing laws to remove juvenile life without parole, Pennsylvania has retained the same sentencing practices for children convicted of 1st and 2nd degree murder since the 1920s. The Miller decision therefore provides Pennsylvania with an important opportunity to make meaningful and substantive changes to its current sentencing policies regarding youth and to take a first step toward the elimination of one of the state’s most unforgiving, retributive, and ineffective incarceration practices.

Unfortunately, however, the legislation currently being introduced in the decision’s wake does anything but that. This week, the Pennsylvania General Assembly amended a pending bill (SB 850) so that it would change Pennsylvania sentencing law for youth convicted of first and second degree murder. As it is currently written, the bill includes the following sentencing structure:

For 1st Degree Murder, the bill would require judges to sentence a youth to either:

  • Life without the opportunity for parole; or

  • 35 years to life for individuals who were 15-17 years old at the time of the offense or 25 years to life for those who were 14 or younger at the time of the offense.

For 2nd Degree Murder the bill would require a sentence of 30 years to life for youth who were 15-17 years old at the time of the offense and 20 years to life for youth who were 14 or under at the time of the offense.

Parole hearings are only guaranteed to occur every five years following completion of the minimum term of years.

This bill must be opposed immediately on multiple grounds. First, the bill does not honor the spirit of the US Supreme Court decision which asserts that children should be sentenced in a way that holds them accountable for their mistakes while also recognizing their youthfulness and their potential for change. While we believe that Life Without Parole is, in fact, never an appropriate sentence, be it for an adult or for a child, we simultaneously understand the particularly devastating consequences that come with applying such harsh sentences to children. A society that condemns its children to die in prison is neither a safe society nor a just society.

Second, SB 850 calls for one of the most substantive changes to this area of the sentencing statute in nearly a century. And yet it is being rushed through the General Assembly without sufficient time for debate and consideration or public input. As has been the case with other important legislation impacting prisoners and/or the judicial process in the past, this legislation is being tacked on as a mere amendment to an otherwise unrelated bill, with the hopes of fast-tracking it into approval. We must not allow this to happen.

Together we can stop this amendment to SB 850 from being passed. In its place, we can insist on the introduction of substantive, thoughtful legislation that abolishes life without parole as a sentencing option for children and eliminates a current policy that is inhumane, unjust, and expensive, while doing nothing to enhance public safety.

 It is critical that we act now!

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