Former ‘lifers’ call on lawmakers to end ‘death by incarceration’

Avis Lee served 40 years, six months and 12 days in prison before being granted parole last year for a murder in which she was not the shooter.

Lee, who spoke at a Capitol rally on Tuesday to end life sentences without parole, is one of eight women serving such sentences to be released from prison in the past 42 years, said she declared.

“In my 40+ and a half years of incarceration, I’ve seen this day. I’ve always said when I get out that I’m going to Harrisburg and I want to speak to the General Assembly and I want to let them know the fate of women as well as men,” Lee said.

Lee was one of about 150 people who rallied on the steps of the Capitol to call on lawmakers to pass two bills that would give lifers a second chance and release options for the elderly or those with disabilities. chronic illnesses in prison.

“Women are dying in prison and [in] registration numbers. A lot of them didn’t kill anyone themselves – like I didn’t,” Lee said. “At some point, punishment becomes retribution. And it becomes revenge. And that’s where we come in and say enough, not more. This must change.

The Coalition Against Death By Incarceration, the group that organized the event, said more than 5,300 people are serving life sentences without the possibility of parole in Pennsylvania.

The coalition says no one should be tried for their worst act and that the death penalty by incarceration costs taxpayers millions of dollars, while imprisoning people who are highly unlikely to re-offend and who could contribute to their communities.

The rally took place the same day the Pennsylvania Superior Court was scheduled to hear oral arguments in the case of Derek Lee, who was sentenced to mandatory life in prison for second-degree murder.

Lawyers for the Abolitionist Law Center argued on Lee’s behalf that Pennsylvania’s ban on parole for those serving life sentences despite not taking their life, or having the intent to take life, is unconstitutional.

“There are too many people with too many talents wasting inside a jail cell that should be home,” said Sen. Sharif Street, D-Philadelphia, who introduced legislation creating the possibility release for those sentenced to life imprisonment. “Sending people away with no way to return home is not what redemption looks like.”

Street bill (SB135) would make anyone serving a second-degree sentence eligible for parole after 25 years in prison. Anyone serving a first-degree sentence would become eligible for parole after 35 years.

Juveniles convicted of crimes committed before the age of 15 would be eligible for parole after 20 years for a second-degree sentence and 25 years for a first-degree sentence.

Anyone serving a first-degree sentence for killing a police officer would not be eligible for parole. Those convicted in the second degree for killing an officer cannot be sentenced to life without parole.

Another one Street Leaning Bill, (SB835) would allow the parole board to grant parole to inmates with a terminal illness, chronic physical or mental condition or disease, severe cognitive or functional impairment, or health that deteriorates with age.

It would also allow for the parole of inmates over the age of 55 who have served 25 years or half of their sentence.

Among the speakers at the rally was Eddie McCreary, who was sentenced to life in prison aged 17.

He was released after serving 36 years, but while in prison, untreated high blood pressure led to chronic kidney failure. Despite his condition, McCreary started a cleanup business and defends other lifers.

“There is a group of men and women in their 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s and their health is failing. And they are treated badly. I was one of them,” McCreary said.

Street said that when a person has spent twice as long behind bars as outside, they change.

“All people are asking is for the government to take a chance and look at every single person,” Street said.

“Second chances don’t mean everyone goes home, it means everyone has a chance to go home if they do the right thing,” Street said. “We are asking for parole eligibility. We ask the parole board to look at people so that when there are people who have lived extraordinary lives behind the wall, that can be recognized.