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Racial disparities plague Pennsylvania’s life-without-parole system — but can it be fixed?

September 17, 2018, Samantha Melamed - The Philadelphia Inquirer

For State Sen. Sharif Street, the most promising sign in his quixotic bid to reform Pennsylvania's life-without-parole system came in the form of a call from Americans for Prosperity, the Koch brothers' libertarian political advocacy group.

"It was some surprise when they sought us out," he said. "It's my first time being on the same side of an issue with them."

Over the past year, Street, a Democrat from North Philadelphia, has been telling anyone who will listen that a change is overdue. Pennsylvania's murder rate ranks 25th in the nation. Yet, courts in the state sentence people to life without parole at a rate that's among the highest in the country, and more than double the national average. Street introduced a bill last year that would allow lifers to be considered for parole after 15 years — a move that would make 64 percent of lifers eligible for that consideration.

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