David Rudovsky- Civil Rights Attorney (cont’d)

We criminalize too much, we rely on the criminal system for too many things. It ought to be seen as an important but limited resource. Nobody is saying close all the prisons, nobody is saying don’t arrest violent or other serious offenders. And we should be thinking about alternatives from the criminal justice system for the mentally ill. Why are there so many persons with mental illness in our prisons? Because years ago we made the right decision to close large mental hospitals, which were really dungeons. The theory was we could close them and we could give better services in the community.  Well, as we often do in this country, we took one step but we didn’t take the other. So we closed the hospitals, but we did not provide a network of support for people with mental illness in the community. It is not surprising that they wind up in prison, which is the worst outcome for everybody involved.

“Perhaps as serious a problem as the death penalty, is the use of sentences of life without parole. That number has skyrocketed; in Pennsylvania alone we have over 4000 persons serving LWOP. Almost all of those people will die in prison, even if they were very young when they committed the crime.  We’ve had some changes with juvenile sentencing but there is a long way to go.”

“Commutation in PA is almost impossible.  Those seeking release after decades in prison need a unanimous approval from a Commutation Board that includes the Attorney General, a crime victim representative, and the Commissioner of Corrections.  The chances of getting a recommendation for commutation is almost impossible in PA. We should be concerned about the human and economic costs of incarcerating persons who are 70, 80, or 90 years old. They are absolutely no danger to the community, they’ve already served many decades in prison. You would think that’s enough, but in our system, it’s not.”

David Rudovsky- Civil Rights Attorney


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