This is Paul Rodgers reporting from the state penitentiary at SCI Chester.
Pennsylvania is one of the few states that life sentences actually means until one’s actual life expire. Unlike other states where life sentences carry a number of years and is expected that the lifers will be eligible for parole, this is not the case in this state. Pennsylvania condemns homicide offenders until their natural death, and it doesn’t matter if they rehabilitate themselves.
It’s understood that each states have its sovereignty to create its own penal codes and criminal statutes. However, all states lawfully must abide by the United States Constitution. The Eighth Amendment of the Constitution forbids cruel and unusual punishment, and it’s mind boggling in light of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that young adult homicide offenders is not benefiting from this science reliant upon in the Miller case.
Even if we leave the science of the brain development out of the equation, how do we as a society justify condemning people for slow aggravating death? The definition of cruel and unusual punishment guarantees individuals the right not to be subjected to excessive sanctions or the evolving standards of decency that marks the progress of a maturing society. Is this the standards of our society? Is we really violent, or is it acceptable to use young adult homicide offenders as fodder for the prison-industrial complex?
My plea for justice isn’t without accountability and responsibility. Lifers just shouldn’t be let go. They should be given the opportunity for parole eligibility. Those who have earned the right to redeem themselves and demonstrated a cognitive transformation are the ones who I advocate for. It’s not all about me. Rather, it’s about all those similar situated who deserve a second chance. It’s been reported in the Greatest Friends newsletter that less than 1% of ex offenders over 50 years old reoffend.
So why hasn’t the Eighth Amendment’s evolving standards reflect the crucial projective reality in Pennsylvania? That we consider the resources it takes to imprison lifers in their senior years, specifically the medical expenses? Such resources would be better served in public schools, social services, as well as mental health care.
When I think of the rising standards of decency that marks the progress of a mature society, I think of the chronicle history of imprisonment. And your convicted homicide offenders were subjected to execution, sent to prison colonies such as Austria and the Americas, public hanging and other corporate punishments were acceptable. Eventually, society evolved. Imprisonment became a more humane punishment. At some point, juvenile offenders were subjected to the death penalty and life sentence until the recent U.S. Supreme ruling that it was violating the Eighth Amendment. I believe executing a given life sentence to 18 to 21 year olds are excessive punishment and should strike the consciousness or the conscience of society as morally wrong.
I question whether if the majority of Pennsylvania’s would even support these sentences if consensus was taken. It has been powerful interest groups, conservative voters who oppose legislation that would make lifers eligible for parole. However, in this majority rule democracy, the state consensus on a life sentence being until one’s natural death are not supported by the majority, and it should be stricken down.
These commentaries are recorded by Prison Radio.