PRESS RELEASE: Mother’s Day Rally Calls for Compassion for Children Sentenced to Die in Prison

Press Contact: 

Decarcerate PA, 267.217.3372

May 5th, 2016

Attn: News Desk
For Immediate Release

Mother’s Day Rally Calls for Compassion for Children Sentenced to Die in Prison

PHILADELPHIA, PA  -- Tomorrow at 12:00 PM, a coalition of organizations and community members will gather on the north side of City Hall to demand an end to sentencing children to life without the possibility of parole. The Coalition to Abolish Death by Incarceration (CADBI) will hold a press conference and rally to bring to light this inhumane policy, and demand immediate steps be taken to re-unify our families and heal our communities.

“Pennsylvania sentences more young people to die in prison than any other state in the country,” said CADBI member Patricia Vickers, whose son is serving a life sentence he received when he was 17. “We are holding this action the Friday before Mother’s Day to highlight how these sentences tear families apart. No mother should have to endure their child living an entire life behind bars.” More than five hundred people in Pennsylvania’s prison system are serving mandatory juvenile life without parole (JLWOP) for crimes that occurred when they were under 18.

At the rally, the group will deliver an over-sized Mother's Day Card to Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams. The card contains messages from mothers of people sentenced to JLWOP, people currently serving life sentences, and others who support their release.

CADBI is calling attention to Pennsylvania’s failure to implement a U.S. Supreme Court decision that found mandatory JLWOP sentences unconstitutional. The court’s 2012 decision in Miller v. Alabama found that mandatory life sentences for children violate the 8th amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. In January, the Supreme Court clarified that the decision applies retroactively. Yet in Pennsylvania, people serving JLWOP are still waiting for relief from these unconstitutional sentences.

The rally was co-organized by people currently serving life without parole (also known as “death by incarceration”) sentences in Pennsylvania. Kempis “Ghani” Songster, who was sentenced to life in prison for a crime he committed when he was 15, emphasizes the need to center compassion and accountability: "Only when all of us, our whole community -- families and friends of victims, families and friends of the condemned, and those who are themselves condemned -- take responsibility for solving our community's problems will the healing begin."  

Speakers include mothers of people serving JLWOP sentences, mothers who have lost children to violence in Philadelphia, prerecorded audio and written statements from people currently serving JLWOP, and other members of the Coalition to Abolish Death By Incarceration.

The rally aims to pressure officials, especially Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, to take immediate steps to resentence the more than three hundred people serving JLWOP who are from Philadelphia. “More than 100 of the Philadelphians serving JLWOP have been in prison for over thirty years,” said CADBI’s Hakim Ali. “It’s past time for our elected officials to implement the Supreme Court’s decision.”

CADBI is demanding that Williams support resentencing those currently serving JLWOP under the 3rd degree murder statute. They are also asking the Pennsylvania courts to facilitate fair and timely resentencing, and demanding that the Mayor and City Council ensure that everyone eligible for resentencing has adequate legal representation. Finally, they are calling on the governor and the state legislature to abolish life without parole as a mandatory sentence for all people, regardless of their age.

###

The Coalition to Abolish Death By Incarceration is a coalition that is working to end death by incarceration (aka life without parole)  sentences in Pennsylvania. The coalition includes Decarcerate PA, Fight for Lifers, The Human Rights Coalition, and Right to Redemption (an organization of people who are incarcerated at SCI Graterford). Learn more at http://decarceratepa.info/CADBI