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From left, Chester Councilwoman Elizabeth Williams, state Rep. Jordan Harris, state Sen. Sharif Street, and Chester Mayor Thaddeus Kirkland all support Senate Bill 942. — Photo/ TML Communications

In the ongoing battle for criminal justice reform across the state, Pennsylvania Sen. Sharif Street took to the streets of Chester on Thursday to promote a bill that would end life sentences without the possibility of parole.

Calling it the “Redemption Tour,” Street was joined by state Rep. Jordan Harris, Chester Mayor Thaddeus Kirkland, member of the Chester City Council and community advocates in the inaugural rally of what is a plan to canvas the state in an effort to raise awareness of PA Senate Bill 942.

The legislation seeks to end sentences of life with no possibility of parole in Pennsylvania.

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“The SB942 Redemption Tour gives families hope, hope which manifests when those serving a life sentence have the opportunity to be heard at a parole board hearing,” Street, addressing a crowd of about 100 at Martin Luther King Jr. Park, said. “We must join the rest of the nation in progressive criminal justice reform. It is consistent with Pennsylvania’s legacy as the foundation of American values and will benefit the people of our great Commonwealth once we have the courage to administer criminal justice that includes both redemption, where applicable and fiscal responsibility.

“We must be willing to educate ourselves and urge our leaders and my colleagues to vote ‘yes’ and pass bill 942,” Street said.

All life sentences in Pennsylvania are imposed without the possibility of parole. As a result, anyone sentenced to life in prison in the state may not be considered for parole, no matter how much they have reformed themselves and no matter how unlikely they are to re-offend. This includes prisoners that have never taken a life.

Additionally, inmates that grow ill and elderly, when they no longer pose a risk to the public, still have no opportunity for parole.

This, advocates argue, creates an avoidable expense for tax payers forced to continue financing the housing of inmates.

“I think it’s imperative we advocate for the passing of Senate Bill 942,” Kirkland said. “The nationwide call for justice reform is loud and can no longer be ignored. Injustice has many faces and I stand united and in support of all efforts that look to address that very issue.”

Senate bill 942 would allow an individual sentenced to life in prison in Pennsylvania to be considered for parole after spending at least 15 years in prison. It also extends parole eligibility retroactivity to those sentenced prior to the effective date of the legislation.

The bill creates no right to parole, so it won’t allow the most dangerous inmates to walk free. The state’s Board of Probation and Parole would be expected to continue to reject inmates deemed unworthy of release or who present too great a safety risk to the public.

“The next generation of leadership starts with us and it is our duty to support fair legislation such as Senate Bill 942. Individuals serving life sentences should be able to have a chance at redemption. Through advocacy and support — this bill will pass in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” said Christina Delva, president of Chester Young Professionals, Inc.

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