by Kim Glovas

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The Pennsylvania Prison Society has just marked it’s 229th anniversary. The PPS celebrated the event at the Eastern State Penitentiary recently.

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PPS works for inmate advocacy and is hoping one new board member will help reform the prison-industrial complex.

Bill DeWeese, former Speaker of the Pennsylvania House, has joined the board and says he is “utterly revved up for the challenge.”

He says he’s looking forward to working with juveniles serving life sentences, as well as:

“Life without parole, seems to be a backward position that we have. Many of these individuals that have served 25, 30, 35 years should at least have a parole hearing,” he said.

And, DeWeese says, it’s expensive to house them.

“We’re spending 40-thousand dollars per inmate in Pennsylvania, and if you’re over the age of 50, the number elevates to 60-thousand dollars per inmate,” he said.

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DeWeese also says 46% of the state prison population are in for non-violent offenses.

PA State Senator Shirley Kitchen (second from right) honored at PPS anniversary. (credit: Kim Glovas)

PA State Senator Shirley Kitchen (second from right) honored at PPS anniversary.
(credit: Kim Glovas)

Pennsylvania State Senator Shirley Kitchen was also honored at the anniversary. She received the Criminal Justice Award for her work in helping inmates get a second chance after release. She says her interest stemmed from real life experience when she was first elected 15 years ago.

“I had so many people asking for jobs, so we talked to various companies and they were willing to give us a few jobs here and there, but it was the background checks that were stopping people,” said Kitchen.

Kitchen began working on eliminating background checks, starting with summary offenses.

“I did introduce bills, mine was not able to get through but we were looking for change, not credit,” she said.

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Recently, the Pennsylvania Clean Slate bill was signed into law, which erases non-violent crimes from the records of those who have served their time.