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11 December, 2020

ACCELERATED COMMUTATION-RESOLVING PENNSYLVANIA'S COVID-19 PRISON PANDEMIC




 

         Elderly and aging incarcerated souls, particularly souls serving life without parole sentences, and souls who have pre-existing medical conditions have a high risk of contracting and dying from COVID-19.   Prisons are not environmentally and structurally configured to  implement the COVID-19 protocols mandated by the United States Centers  for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.org).   Many incarcerated souls are being “double-celled” – a set of circumstances that makes “social distancing” impossible – as they are sharing a confined space for a period of at least 23 hours each day with another soul.  The “Accelerated Commutation” Initiative will release aging and elderly incarcerated souls and incarcerated souls with pre-existing medical conditions; reduce the prison population; and free up space that will allow for single-celling at prisons.  Aging and elderly incarcerated souls have an exceptionally low recidivism rate. According to the Vera Institute of Justice (www.vera.org), recidivism rates for souls between the ages 50 and 65 is 2%. and “almost zero for souls older than 65. 

 

 

Eligibility Criteria

           

            Incarcerated souls beginning at age 50 are eligible candidates for the
“Accelerated Commutation” Initiative.  The following criteria, along with age, should be used as the yardstick for measuring an incarcerated soul’s candidacy for the “Accelerated Commutation” Initiative.
 

 

(A)      Served a minimum of 25 years of a life without parole sentence

 

(B)      Pre-existing medical condition

 

(C)     Possess a low risk assessment score (COMPAS)

 

(D)    Accepted full responsibility for the behavior they engaged in which brought them to prison

 

(E)      Demonstrated a positive adjustment to institutionalization

 

(F)   Obtained a GED and/or college education or vocational training while incarcerated

 

(G)  Obtained employment skills, community ties, and/or employment while incarcerated 

 

(H)     Possess a Home Plan

 

(I)     Received and/or accepted invitations to assume leadership roles in academic, mentoring, public policy, or social entrepreneurial activities and initiatives that enhance the institutional environment and positively impact communities outside of the institutional environment while incarcerated

 

(J)    Possess a track record of designing and/or co-implementing and/or participating in solutions-based initiatives (e.g., atonement programs, domestic violence workshops, mentoring programs, and programs/forums which specifically help to minimize/eradicate violence, Fatherlessness, poverty, emotional/spiritual/psychological trauma and toxicity, recidivism, and crime) while incarcerated 

  

Candidates

 

       Incarcerated souls who meet many, if not all, of the suggested eligibility requirements for immediate release under the “Accelerated Commutation” Initiative can be found at prisons throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.   Many aging and elderly incarcerated souls have mentored younger prisoners and have, with the support of community stakeholders, co-implemented initiatives that address public safety issues which include, but are not limited to, gun violence.  A sample group of candidates for the “Accelerated Commutation” Initiative are aging and elderly incarcerated souls who are “inside-out” Criminal Justice Reform, Reentry, and Social Justice Thought Leaders and members of a nationally acclaimed “inside-out” think tank – SCI Phoenix LIFERS, Inc. (“LIFERS, Inc.”) (www.lifersincpa.org) established in 1989. They designed research-driven and solutions-based initiatives that prevent, reduce, and eradicate Philadelphia’s out-of-control gun violence, recidivism, the “school-to-prison” pipeline, Fatherlessness, intergenerational incarceration, and street crime.  Initiatives that operate under the umbrella of LIFERS, Inc. include:

 

               Middle Neighborhoods At-Risk Youth And Young Adults Mentoring Program, A Branch Of LIFERS, Inc. Public Safety Initiative External Affiliations  is a gun violence prevention/ reduction mentoring initiative that was approved and funded by the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Violence Prevention on 31 December 2019   (https://mailchi.mp/phila. gov/city-awards-more-than-700000-to-grassroots-efforts-to-stem-gun-violence-309345?e=0dfdda1bd3).  Mentors for the initiative received mentorship training from Big Brothers Big Sisters Independence Region (https://independencebigs.org) and a certificate that acknowledged their successful completion of the said training.   Due to COVID-19, the 13-week gun violence prevention/reduction mentoring initiative which commenced on 22 February 2020 and operated in the Cobbs Creek section of West Philadelphia was suspended on 23 March 2020.

 

               SCI Phoenix Fathers And Children Together Experience (“F.A.C.T. Experience”) – United Community Action  Network (“U-CAN”), which is comprised of members of LIFERS, Inc., designed a research-driven and solutions-based two-tiered, fourteen week parenting initiative – SCI Phoenix F.A.C.T. Experience – that addresses Fatherlessness and Intergenerational Incarceration.  This initiative is supported by an External Group of community stakeholders that co-facilitates along with key members of U-CAN (A) parenting training  for Incarcerated Fathers conducted at SCI Phoenix; (B) orientation sessions and external parenting training for mothers and legal guardians of children of fathers incarcerated at SCI Phoenix; and (C) workshops attended solely by Fathers and their children that helps them build a strong relationship and provides Fathers with an opportunity to address any academic or behavioral issues with their child.  Fathers, Mothers, and legal guardians enrolled in the initiative are equipped with co-parenting skills that they utilize to work together in the best interest of the child. 

 

               Project Pipeline To Prison Youth/Reclaiming Their Lives As Men –  Barriers to successful reintegration that confront incarcerated African American young men upon their release from prison are addressed through mentoring sessions conducted at SCI Phoenix (formerly SCI Graterford). Designed by “inside-out” Criminal Justice Reform, Reentry, and Social Justice Thought Leader James Muhammed Taylor, Project Pipeline Prison To Youth/Reclaiming Their Lives As Men has successfully transformed the decision making and behavior of incarcerated young adults through mentoring sessions.  Plans are being formulated to implement the mentoring sessions along with vocational and entrepreneurial training for at-risk youths and young adults in West Philadelphia. 

 

               People Advancing Reintegration - Mr. James Muhammed Taylor, Chair of the LIFERS, Inc.’ Commutation Committee, is the Founder of and Consultant for People Advancing Reintegration (“PAR”) which was established in 1989 at SCI Graterford (now SCI Phoenix) to reduce recidivism by helping incarcerated souls prepare for their freedom in a realistic and responsible manner through its Day One Parole Preparation Course.  In 2016, Mr. Taylor’s initiative morphed into People Advancing Reintegration—Recycle Works (“PAR-Recycle Works”), a non-profit organization that employs Returning Citizens in Philadelphia and has an estimated annual income of US$1,000,000. 

 

               Reentry Zone -  West Philadelphia has been selected as the proposed site for a gun violence free and crime free busines-driven Reentry Zone which is the vision of Mr. James Muhammed Taylor (www.jamesmuhammedtaylor.com), who serves as the Chair of LIFERS, Inc.’s Commutation Committee.  The business-driven Reentry Zone will provide Returning Citizens with housing, jobs, vocational and entrepreneurial training, clothing, food, and transportation.  Mentoring and vocational and entrepreneurial skills training will be provided to at-risk youths and young adults through Project Pipe Line To Prison Youth/Reclaiming Their Lives As Men at the gun violence free and crime free business-driven Reentry Zone.  As of this writing, work has commenced to establish the Reentry Zone in West Philadelphia.

 

               SCI PHOENIX, PA LIFERS, Inc. Public Safety Initiative  - Through this two-tiered initiative, Adult Returning Citizens (Tier 1) will receive one-on-one counseling and combined psycho-educational and problem-based learning that identifies barriers to successful reintegration and provides essential tools for transcending these barriers.  Adult Returning Citizens will also receive referrals for housing, household management training, career/employment  acquisition and training; money management skills training, health resources and support services, and entrepreneurial skills training.  The SCI-PHOENIX PA LIFERS, Inc. Public Safety Initiative which also has an External Working Group consisting of diverse community stakeholders, mentors at-risk children and youths   Utilizing a bi-furcated approach, Tier 2 of the SCI-PHOENIX, PA LIFERS Public Safety Initiative will (A) reduce gun violence by mentoring – at-risk youths and young adults; (B) introduce them to legitimate real-life career/employment options; (C) work to improve the academic performance of mentees enrolled in school; (D) positively transform the mindset of at-risk children and youths; and (E) help them realize their worthiness and the potential they possess and must actualize to mature into productive and successful adults. 

 

               LIFERS Project Of Service In Support Of Commutation Release is the direct result of SCI-PHOENIX LIFERS, Inc. receiving an invitation to participate in a discussion with a doctoral candidate whose dissertation explored an analysis of commutation release in the United States.  

 

               The LIFERS Project Of Service In Support Of Commutation Release provides a blueprint for eligible candidates for commutation release to continue addressing and eradicating factors that marginalize communities  -- the same work they performed during their incarceration.

 

               OPERATION FRESH START™   - Crafted by a highly respected veteran jurist in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s Court of Common Pleas, The Honorable James M. DeLeon, OPERATION FRESH START™, a component of LIFERS, Inc’s series of initiatives, creates pathways to reintegration and redemption for the approximately 600,000 souls released annually from American correctional facilities by addressing post-prison collateral consequences through the following: 

 

      Governor’s Mentorship Initiative

      District Attorney’s Mentorship Initiative

      Mayor’s Mentorship Initiative

      City Council’s Mentorship Initiative

      The Jacobs Downward Departure Program

      Crime Victims Compensation Fund Scholarship

      German Workforce Skills Initiative

      Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Initiative


 

Community Support

 

           The concept for the “Accelerated Commutation” Initiative has been explored with a number of community stakeholders throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.  Community stakeholders have express support for the “Accelerated Commutation” Initiative.                                                                             






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