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FAMM hosted Pennsylvania lawmakers for #VisitAPrison blitz during April’s Second Chance Month
HARRISBURG – April was Second Chance Month, which highlights the need to remove barriers for formerly incarcerated individuals to successfully reenter society. This year FAMM’s Pennsylvania State Policy Director Celeste Trusty marked the occasion by working with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections to facilitate legislative visits to prisons across the Commonwealth as part of our #VisitAPrison challenge.
“April’s Second Chance Month celebrated community members in reentry, and raised awareness about helping those who have paid their debt to society have an opportunity for a second chance,” said Trusty. “Unfortunately, Pennsylvania’s extreme sentences and lack of release mechanisms reduce second chance opportunities for far too many people. That’s why FAMM pushes so hard for sentencing reform.
“Our #VisitAPrison challenge facilitates discussions between lawmakers and incarcerated people, which highlights the humanity and power of redemption inside our prisons, which we hope will increase support for expanding access to second chances. April was a whirlwind of scheduling, many miles in the car, and an incredible opportunity to meet so many people incarcerated in Pennsylvania — I have to believe it made a profound impact on our legislators and their staff, and I hope it leads to more compassionate legislating in Harrisburg and a legal system that is more just.”
Pennsylvania has the highest incarceration rate in the Northeastern U.S. and the second-highest number of people serving life without parole sentences. FAMM advocates for reforms to life without parole sentences, expanded early release for elderly and ill people in prison, and promotes greater use of executive clemency that can simultaneously save taxpayer dollars and redirect those savings in proven ways to reduce crime and recidivism.
“For many of us, prisons exist out of sight and out of mind,” said Rep. Marla Brown. “Even some of our legislators and prosecutors have never visited a jail, prison or spoken with incarcerated people to gain knowledge. I recently visited the State Correctional Institution-Albion in Erie County and spoke with some life-sentence inmates. It was an experience that changed me. We have a duty as state representatives to be sure every human being in this country is treated with dignity, despite their background.”
While #VisitAPrison is a national campaign, the state where the most visits have happened continued to be Pennsylvania.
“Thank you to Celeste Trusty and FAMM for organizing this trip,” said freshman State Rep. Johanny Cepeda-Freytiz. “Thanks to this experience I have the needs of inmates on my mind, especially those that are doing life and those that are terminally ill. We often forget that those behind bars are human beings too. I intend to work and support legislation that grants these human beings the opportunity to have a second chance at correcting their mistakes and giving back and becoming positive contributors to our communities.”
#VisitAPrison highlights from April included:
- A visit to SCI Greene with staff from State Sen. Camera Bartolotta and State Rep. Bud Cook’s offices to learn about their vocational and educational programs and meet with people serving life sentences who are mentors and leaders in their community, and are also working hard to change sentencing laws from inside the prison.
- A visit to SCI Albion with State Reps. Marla Brown and Jake Banta included a tour of the Neurodevelopmental Residential Treatment Unit, which supports incarcerated people on the autism spectrum, and also visited the Correctional Industries Commissary Distribution Center. They met with people serving life or virtual life sentences, whose medical conditions, dedication to redemption, and time served to make them highly unlikely to re-offend.
- A visit to SCI Coal Township with members from the Northeast delegation of the State House: Rep. Johanny Cepeda-Freytiz and her staff Jaime Baez, Jr., Angel Fox from Rep. Patty Kim’s office, and Geoff Morrow from Rep. Maureen Madden’s office. They visited the dog training program and toured the Restricted Housing Unit where people are housed in solitary confinement. They also talked with four men, including David Lee, who despite facing extreme sentences are doing extraordinary positive things from behind bars.
For more than three decades, FAMM has united the voices of affected families, the formerly incarcerated, and a range of stakeholders and advocates to fight for a more fair and effective justice system. FAMM has led the fight to reform extreme mandatory sentencing laws and to promote rehabilitation and dignity for all people in prison, 94 percent of whom will return to our neighborhoods one day.
FAMM is a national nonpartisan advocacy organization that promotes fair and effective criminal justice policies that safely reduce incarceration, save taxpayer dollars, and keep families together. Founded in 1991, FAMM has secured bold sentencing and prison reform across the country while elevating the voices of directly impacted individuals and families.
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