Friday, August 8, 2008

Pennsylvania: No Mercy Here

PennLive.Com features a powerful editorial by William M. DiMascio, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Prison Society. The specific topic is Victor Hassine, who was found hanging in his cell at the State Correctional Institution at Somerset. Hassine had been in prison since 1980, serving a life sentence for murder. But DiMascio notes:
... What may be far more relevant today is the utterly dysfunctional nature of the Pardons Board. This constitutionally formed body is overwhelmed with trivialities -- meeting monthly to hear the relatively minor cases or youthful indiscretions that in today's super-security conscious environment become criminal records that are obstacles to employment.

More serious cases, like life-sentenced prisoners being considered for commutations, are almost never heard. The backlog is said to approach three years from the time an appeal is filed. Unlike most other states, Pennsylvania denies parole eligibility to all life- and death-sentenced prisoners. So commutation provides the sole glimmer of hope for more than 4,000 prisoners. Since 1995, the Pardons Board has only recommended three prisoners for commutation and governors have granted just two of them ...
He adds:
... This is a Pardons Board that was reinforcing its record of supporting perpetual punishment and negativity. It does not function in the arena of "corrections"; it does nothing to promote positive values and achievement ...
As it turns out, Hassine was "a good, if not model, prisoner." He wrote a supplement to standard criminal justice textbooks and donated royalties to various charities. He was a also a literacy tutor and teacher's aide. In 1991 he attended the annual meeting of the Pennsylvania Prison Society and was presented the Prisoner of the Year Award. DiMascio concludes:
How do we as a society expect to curtail the violence in our communities if our governing bodies continue to promote vengeance, retribution and retaliation? We should be demanding that the agencies empowered to act on our behalf model values that we want the citizenry to replicate. Compassion is one of those values, and empathy and clemency are others.
See the full editorial here.

3 comments:

21nsome said...

sorry 2 hear about Mr.Hassine. Him n I was cellmate 4 6 months b4 I filed my application 4 commutation which was granted n 2001. I currently reside n Mercer County.

Anonymous said...

This is a very sad story and I thank you for writing about it. I'm currently reading his book "Life Without Parole: Living in Prison Today" 4th Edition for my Correctional Law Class. I decided to search his name to see what else I could find on him. I will be using this site as one of my references in my paper (with the correct citation of course). This gives you more of an insight into him than the book itself, but I recommend reading his book to anyone interested in this field of work; or just for the read even.

I only wished that the outcome of this was a better one. I am deeply saddened by this. After all he did and to have it end like that...

Anonymous said...

I knew Vic from our college days and am familiar with both his good points and his darker side. I have followed his story from afar, and was pleased to see what he accomplished given his circumstances. I have read his book and could hear him speaking as I read it. I just learned of his death and am deeply saddened. I can only imagine how horrible life behind bars must have been to make someone with his mental strength take his own life. What a waste and lost opportunity.

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