Release Aging and Vulnerable People in Pennsylvania Prisons at Risk of COVID-19

Release Aging and Vulnerable People in Pennsylvania Prisons at Risk of COVID-19

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We the undersigned are calling for Governor Tom Wolf, LT. Governor John Fetterman and all PA lawmakers to heed national demands to release aging and vulnurable people in prison in light of the current coronavirus pandemic.

On Wednesday, April 8, 2020, Pennsylanian Betty Heron, will turn 80 years old.  Heron was convicted of killing her abusive husband in 1982 and sentenced to life without parole. “He systematically and continuously abused me, mentally, physically, and emotionally. It was going to be one or the other,” she states. According to Survived and Punished, the majority of people serving Life Without Parole (LWOP) in women’s prisons, are survivors of abuse, including intimate partner battering, childhood abuse, sexual violence and trafficking. 

Let’s Get Free is joining the national call from groups like New York-based Release Aging People from Prison demanding that governors address this problem of aging behind bars that has been around long before the novel coronavirus.  

This is how the numbers break down in PA:

  • There  are 62 Pennsylvania women over the age of 60 serving life without parole.
  • Six of those 62 women are in their 80’s, with Alice Green, the oldest woman in a Pennsylvania prison, turning 90 in August.
  • In total, there are 1,297 people over the age of 60 serving LWOP, also known as death by incarceration.
  • On average, it costs $60,000 to $100,000 a year to house an aging prisoner while the public safety risk of releasing them is extremely low

“Ms. Betty’s incarceration gives no benefit to society, but instead deprives society and her family of big-hearted leadership.  In the United States, in a state with a forward-minded governor, no family or community should be deprived of their grandmas, aunties and other elders.  This is a moment of crisis! Betty and so many others are not a threat to society; but now due to close confinement during a pandemic, considering her age, she is very much at risk of lethally contracting covid-19,” says Alan Lewandowski, board member of Let’s Get Free. 

We are calling on Pennsylvanian Officials to use reprieve power, expedite commutations, create policies - whatever you can do in your power to release the aging and vulnerable population from prison.