John L. Micek of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star writes in today's Morning Coffee:
A new study paints a harrowing portrait of the racial
disparities among people serving life without parole, or virtual life
sentences of 50 or more years, in Pennsylvania's prisons. At 8,242 people, the
state has not only the second-largest such population of incarcerated
individuals in the nation, but also in the world, according to new research by
the legal aid group Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity.
PLSE, which provides free legal advice and representation to low-income Philadelphians, conducted its research in conjunction with Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, who chairs the state Board of Pardons. Fetterman, a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in 2022, has made reforming Pennsylvania's life without parole system one of the cornerstones of his tenure.
Fetterman's office initially commissioned the group in November in 2019 to conduct an audit of the 1,166 people then serving life sentences for second-degree murder, a charge that's pursued when someone dies as a result of felony, such as a robbery, irrespective of the depth of someone's involvement in a crime. The group's first report, issued in February 2021, took a look at sentencing patterns.
The new report takes a more extensive look at the racial demographics in the state's life-without-parole population.