Prison Radio
Charles Karim Diggs

Hello everyone. My name is Charles Karim Diggs. I’m at Graterford, uh, prison. And my number is AK7945, Box 244, Graterford, PA 19426.

I wanted to, uh, share my feelings about the senior citizens in the prisons, specifically Pennsylvania. And, uh, the topic is, uh, prisons throughout America have become senior citizen warehouses.

In Pennsylvania, the prison population is 10% senior citizen. Those over 50 years of age are considered elderly in these prisons. Many of the prisons throughout the state become overcrowded with the elderly that they have separate blocks, separate housing units, for them.

As everyone knows prisons was not built for older- older men and women. It was, it was a young man’s institution, because most crimes it’s accepted that it’s done when you’re young, and what happens is that they keep you in prison for a substantial number of years, becomes a burden on the state, because the prisons aren’t set up to house older men and women. And why is this such a public interest, or why should it be?

And my argument is that, at some point, we should consider reviewing parole for those who have serving life sentences in Pennsylvania, because it’s costing the state millions of dollars. And also they don’t have really the- they’re not set up to treat the medical problems that- that takes place with an elderly prisoner.

The lawmakers have made these mandatory sentences which turns into a death by incarceration, because even with a relief system in the state for those who are elderly or terminally ill, they don’t use it. Very rarely do they use it, maybe one or two guys make it out every couple of years, but outside of that, most of the men and women, when they get older and they get sick, they pass away here.

And most of the men who die in prison, their families don’t even take them because they’ve lost touch with their families. They’ve been here so long, and it becomes a burden, you know, to bury somebody. It costs 10, 15, 20 thousand dollars. So keeping the elderly in prison is- is just a disadvantage for the entire system.

In fact, in Pennsylvania, they have a prison called Laurel Heights, and it houses nothing but the elderly and the sick, and that costs 300 million to build that. So you can see this elderly prisoners is expanding and costing the state a lot of money. The fact is that the public is not seeing what’s going on in the prisons.

They’re just not aware, you know, we’re, we’re usually built in these rural areas, and so what you have, we’re just creating employment in these different rural areas, but you’re draining the public taxpayer’s money because that money could be used with schools, hospitals, roads, and other things that the citizens need in society.

You may want to ask the question: “Well, why are they keeping people in prison until old age?” All I can say is that the laws began to change in the early eighties. They began to- this drug war, and this drug war meant that put more and more people in prison at any cost. But what happened it incorporated all your other types of crimes and what they did, they just kept packing the prisons with more and more drug cases.

And then most of your murder cases, they’re drug-related. And so most men came in jail before they were 25 years of age, majority. So they were young too, but they’re not considering that when they- when you guy goes up for computation, they don’t consider that. They just deny, deny, deny. So now you have this massive large prison population which is dying off one by one.

My position would be that the society should realize men and women in jail, some are innocent, some are guilty. The fact is that there’s no mechanism to really measure the maturity of that person. To say to someone after 30, 40 years, you resurrect the crime and you say they’re the same person, not even an argument. No one’s the same. Everybody changes. No matter where you are, who you are, everybody changes.

So what has happened to the prison industry has taken the human factor out of being a human being, because once you say no- a person never changes, you’re saying basically they’ve lost all their humanity, and I would argue that that wasn’t the purpose of the penal system. You know, the penal system was repentance, you know, punishment, but there was a repentance, it was a former redemption.

That these life sentences throughout Pennsylvania and United States should be revisited by the, uh, the legislator or even the governor, but even with the governor, they passed several laws that they amended Constitutions in several states where the governor has no say so in the parole or computation of the prisoners. It has to go through a commutation board, then the governor- and you got to get all five votes. How are you going to get all five votes unanimously? It’s not going to happen.

So the few that do make it to the governor’s desk, you know, it’s not even, it’s not even significant a reason to say they have a system. So even with the alleged system in place, it doesn’t work. You know, you have the attorney general on the board, crime victim, lieutenant governor, and two other people, you know, five people. And they’re all, you know, on the side of the, uh, excessive prosecution mentality. You know, once they’re in there, we’re keeping them here, we’re not taking any chances.

And so, and this is why you have what I think is about 5,500 lifers in Pennsylvania who have no hope of, uh, parole eligibility. Like I say, every governor, they may let out two or three people, but that’s not a, uh, acceptable, uh, a number of people that’s being released back into society. And on top of that, those who have gotten out through the last 20 or 30 years, they’re all very successful in society. None of them have returned to prison for any, any, uh, anything major at all. So we have a good track record throughout the country.

Now the juveniles, they’re letting- they pass the law. They have to give them parole. They have to give you review for parole with some chance. So 500 of them are in prison here in Pennsylvania. They’re all being released now one by one, gotten up to about 50 so far. And they made the law retroactive, and it was based on their, uh, their mental- their brain wasn’t fully developed. And in that science, the neuroscientists, uh, concluded that the brain doesn’t become fully developed until the late twenties, 25, some say up to 30.

But the United States Supreme Court, they cut it off at 18. So we’re now litigating, uh, trying to get the, the, uh, the prison system to recognize, uh, the men who were convicted of the crimes, uh, they were under 25, they should, uh, be given the chance for parole eligibility.

And, um, so that’s about all that I have to offer for this evening. I just wanted the public to know that the prisons are turning gray throughout America. And it’s time that they begin to return the missing men and missing women. They’re spending these prisons 20, 30, 40, I’ve got one guy been here 64 years, you know, and it’s just unbelievable.

And the public, there’s no safety problem here for the public, because most of the men here are all older men, elderly, they have medical problems. And, uh, we think that the society would benefit from that because they have a lot to offer. I’m very- I have a whole lot to offer. In fact, it’s the elderly men that kept the prisons pretty, well, safe for people come in here, young guys, we made it safe for them where they don’t have to worry about being molested order, or their commissary taken, or taken advantage stuff.

So, uh, we, we should get an Academy Award for that because prisons aren’t rehabilitating- rehabilitating anyone. The prisoners are helping one another and we try to influence the, uh, the younger men.

And, uh, one more note that a lot of this massive imprisonment, it’s being driven by the prosecutors because they are the ones who are inspiring the state legislators to pass more laws and to give, uh, stiffer sentences for various crimes.

And did half of your legislators are ex-prosecutors. Many of your governors are ex-prosecutors. So they’ve actually, uh, undermine the Constitution, because the Constitution reflects, they’re trying to make this country separation of powers, power- part of the government doesn’t get all the power, but if you [inaudible] each area of the government, you undermine what Madison and Jefferson was trying to, uh, explain.

Because if you know, the ex-DAs, uh, he’s running the legislature, all his buddies are now legislators, uh, legislators, the governor’s are ex-prosecutors, the mayor’s- like Philadelphia had four or five mayors, they were all ex-prosecutors. We now got a guy running and he’s, uh, he never was a district attorney, and he’s talking about change and just- it has to start in the DA’s office.

And I agree with that. I’ve been saying that for the last four decades. But, um, so the public can realize, you know, you have a bunch of prosecutors running the entire system, even on the commutation board in Pennsylvania, you have a crime victim on there, and all you need is one vote to say you can’t be commuted.

And usually the crime victim votes against anybody with any type of violent crime, so one person has veto power which prevents you from even getting to the governor’s desk. So this is the type of system we’ve developed here in the United States, and the public don’t know that because everything is done behind the wall in secret.

Amongst that class of prosecutors who then become legislators, governors, attorney generals. And so every, every place a prisoner goes to get relief, you’re dealing with prosecutors. Same thing with the public court. Pennsylvania Supreme Court, at one time, had five district attorneys. Five! So how are you- how was the defense attorney going to get you any fair review of your public rights?

Same thing with the superior court. Half of them were ex-prosecutors and, um, you know, so this is the type of, uh, a system we have. It’s lopsided, it’s arbitrary, and it’s punitive. And I think the more the public understands that, you know, they’ll see that this is not fair. It’s unreasonable.

And that’s all basically a man is entitled to, a woman entitled to, in prison, just want a fair review, reasonable people to, you know, to discuss their dispute, their constitutional violations, but we’re not getting that, and so this is my message for everyone to get involved in some kind of way in changing the, uh, the entire criminal justice judicial prison system. Thank you very much.

These commentaries are recorded by Noelle Hanrahan of Prison Radio.