Ann (contd)- Exec Director of PA Prison Society

Our policy makers, our decision makers, our law makers are scared at this point of being considered soft on crime. They are reluctant to vote in a way that could connect them to a future campaign that makes them look too soft. That’s not everybody, and I don’t mean it as a blanket statement because there are legislators that are willing to take up the cause. But recently we’ve seen knee jerk reactions where one situation will change what’s going on in the prison system and it’s hard to get beyond that. Especially when you’re looking at your future career and what the politics might look like. 

We had terrible, horrible situations with Willie Horton back in the 80’s and Mud Man Simon in the 90’s. Each decade seems to have their own atrocious example that shuts down certain humane sectors of the prison system that otherwise provide some hope or opportunities. That just gets worse and worse. Recently we saw the passage of the Revicitmization Act, a bill focused on preventing Mumia Abu Jamal from speaking out, based on a graduation speech he gave to a college in Vermont based on their request. It’s the quickest legislation I’ve ever seen enacted. In two weeks’ time, this bill passed the PA General Assembly and the governor signed off on it. But there are real questions as to free speech; there are real questions as to who this will impact- will it curtail Mumia or is this possibly going to curtail any former offender? Clearly, no one wants to re-victimize victims and that’s not the intent, but there has to be a happy medium. There has to be a way that people can still speak and express themselves per the constitution. There has to be a way people can still talk about success stories if nothing else, to show those in prison that they can turn their lives around and get a second chance to do things better. There are challenges pending and it will be tied up in the courts. While that takes place, however, the law may end up muzzling current and former offenders, returning citizens, and preventing free speech.

Ann Schwartzman- Exec Director of PA Prison Society
The mission of the Pennsylvania Prison Society is to advocate for a humane, just and restorative correctional system, and to promote a rational approach to criminal justice issues. The Prison Society recognizes that constructive corrections helps to repair the damages of crimes to victims and communities. The equilibrium achieved through this restorative approach, which is both cost effective and humane, benefits and enriches all facets of society and advances the well being of the entire community.

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