Pennsylvania Lawmakers Make Renewed Effort to Expand Compassionate Prison Releases

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The Morning Call: Lindsay Weber - July 26, 2021


A new push to reform Pennsylvania’s compassionate prisoner release — a system deemed by advocates to be insufficient and inefficient — is expected to occur when lawmakers return to Harrisburg in two months.


Democratic Sen. Lisa Boscola of Northampton County and Republican Sen. Lisa Baker of Luzerne County are among the lawmakers seeking change.


Boscola indicated she will soon reintroduce a bill to let some incarcerated Pennsylvanians automatically qualify for medical release. Baker also has indicated a willingness to follow up on an earlier proposal.


Kirstin Cornnell, director of social services at the Pennsylvania Prison Society, wants to see change. Volunteers at the organization help three incarcerated Pennsylvanians secure compassionate release from prison each year.


“[The release] makes a really big difference to that person, but doesn’t make a big systemic change,” Cornnell said.


In Pennsylvania, where there are about 38,000 people in the prison system, an inmate needs to petition his or her sentencing judge in order to qualify for compassionate release.


Inmates must secure a doctor’s note that testifies that they have less than a year to live, and in most cases, must be unable to walk. Even then, judges have a lot of discretion when it comes to granting medical release, adding hurdles.


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