Community Leaders Rally Urging Montco DA Steele to Support Geriatric Parole

Kris Henderson speaks into a mic surrounded by people with signs that read 'DA Steele: Support Geriatric Parole'

Frigid and blustery weather couldn’t stop a group of committed community members from speaking out and calling for justice for our elders. On Thursday, December 1st a group of active community leaders gathered in Norristown on the steps of the Montgomery County Courthouse to call on District Attorney Kevin Steele to support geriatric parole.

“I’m out here, because when I was on the inside the old heads who didn’t feel too great and everything were there for me. I feel obligated to be there for them,” said Sergio Hyland, a criminal justice organizer with the Pennsylvania Working Families Party and the Assistant to the Executive Director at Abolitionist Law Center.

Sergio Hyland speaks into the mic surrounded by people with signs that read 'DA Steele Support Geriatric Parole.'
Sergio Hyland of Pennsylvania Working Families Party and Abolitionist Law Center speaks out for elderly incarcerated people on the steps of the Montgomery County Court House

This press conference came on the heels of a letter sent to DA Steele imploring him to support geriatric parole signed by almost 20 faith leaders. While DA Steele has no direct power over legislation, both the faith leaders and the community members that gathered in the cold weather understood clearly that district attorneys have a powerful voice among the legislature through their association, the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association.

“DA Kevin Steele is the president of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, one of the most powerful associations within this state,” pointed out Kerry ‘Shakaboona’ Marshall a formerly incarcerated community leader (and former client of Amistad Law Project) and Executive Director of the Human Rights Coalition.

“What we want is DA Kevin Steele to send a letter to the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association as a whole urging that body to support geriatric parole and also send a letter to the General Assembly letting them know that he supports geriatric parole. We don’t need more elderly people locked up and dying in our prisons. We need elderly people actually mentoring young people and helping their communities and loved ones.”, said Kris Henderson, the Executive Director of Amistad Law Project.

In Pennsylvania prisons there are current over 8,200 people serving either life without parole or virtual life sentence that will ensure that they die in prison without a change in the law. 

What I don’t understand is why our state spends more money to not take care of people who are elderly and who are dying in prison. It costs more money to keep people locked up and not give them the medical care they need than to actual send them home to their families  and communities and allow them to live full lives and die with dignity at home with their family,” said Jay Bergen, assistant pastor at Germantown Methodist Church.

Specifically, speakers called on him to voice support for SB 835, a geriatric parole bill that would give parole review to all those over 55 who have served half of their sentence or 25 years whichever is the lesser. 

Kerry 'Shakaboona' Marshall addresses the crowd
Kerry 'Shakaboona' Marshall who came home from 37 years of incarceration earlier this year addresses the crowd

“We represent dozens of organizations throughout this state from Pittsburgh to Erie, PA to Central PA all the way over here to Philadelphia and the surrounding counties: Montgomery, Berks, Delco and elsewhere. We are your constituents. At the end of the day elderly incarcerated people are people too and they need to have human dignity and respect just like everyone else. They have names. They have family members and their family members vote. We say support SB 835.” said Kerry ‘Shakaboona’ Marshall.

The press conference was part of an ongoing effort to get district attorneys in Pennsylvania to support commonsense measures that would provide parole review and pathways home for aging people in PA prisons. When we unite and speak out we can make a difference. Sign the petition below to urge the Pennsylvania District Attorney's Association to support geriatric parole. 

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