By Michael Geer
This afternoon, a former Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, a Democrat, will report to the Dauphin County Courthouse to begin serving a prison sentence for his conviction on corruption charges. He joins a Republican former speaker who was sentenced to prison this year, also on public corruption charges.
Perhaps these two men will come to see what Chuck Colson and former PA Attorney General Ernie Preate did during their time in prison – that the system needs to be reformed, that prisoners are real people, and many of them can truly be reformed and restored.
This morning at the Capitol, The Commonwealth Foundation hosted a briefing calling for significant reform to the state correctional system. I was honored to be a participant in the gathering, which included notable speakers from across the political spectrum, such as former PA Governor George Leader, former Philadelphia Mayor, Rev. Wilson Goode, and the PA Secretary of Corrections, John Wetzel.
From my view, the unified agenda of this diverse group can be stated with a few sentences:
The cost of incarceration goes well beyond the expense of housing the individual inmate. Children, families, communities all are affected and add to the price tag. We applaud efforts to reform the corrections system to reduce costs and truly correct the offender. When there are legitimate alternatives to long sentences for non-violent offenders, why not implement them? When streamlining the process can save money and reduce risk to the public, why not do it?
One reason why prison reform is so slow to happen is that when prisoners are sent away, most of us have an “out of sight, out of mind” perspective. It can’t continue. Scripture calls us to care for the orphan, the widow and the prisoner. God wants us to be concerned about prisoners – because He is concerned about them.
Chuck Colson and Ernie Preate have brought that message from behind bars. In God’s plan, perhaps our two former speakers may someday serve that role as well.