The Pennsylvania Prison Society marked its 225th year of advocacy for reform with a reception Thursday evening at Wertz Student Center of Lycoming College.
The event, which featured speakers Troy Edwards, reentry services coordinator for the state Department of Corrections, and the Rev. Walter Everett, of Hartford, Conn., was one of the last in a statewide birthday swing for the Prison Society.
William DiMascio, executive director at the Society, explained its purpose over the centuries.
"People should be treated like human beings, decently, no matter what they did. It's too easy to surrender to forces of expediency - corrections should have a positive outcome."
The Prison Society, formed as the Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons, was founded in 1787 by such Philadelphia luminaries as Dr. Benjamin Rush, Rep. John Swanwick and Continental Congress delegate Tench Coxe. It has its official visitors recognized by an unusual 1829 state act - anyone affiliated with them can visit any prisoner in the state seven days a week.
Efforts of its advocacy include making some changes to how parole is operated, DiMascio said.
"We have more people recidivate in halfway houses than those who aren't, because the rules are so strict sometimes. We hear from men and women that parole can stop them from getting a job. They need a document to prove they've been to an interview, they need an employer who will put up with calls to check up on them."
Everett shared the story of his son's slaying in 1987 by a crack addict named Mike Carlucci, and how he became connected to Carlucci through letters, then visits, and eventually supported his bid for an early release.
"I lived in a rage, I was debilitated for two or three months. I found out it didn't have to feel good to forgive him - you probably don't need to forgive if you feel good about it. There was no bolt of lightning, no instant healing, just a slight lifting of the burden."
Everett's talk was titled "Restorative Justice."
"I've watched people wait 20, 30 years for an execution," he said. "Then when it comes they say, 'Why don't I feel better?' "
For more information on the Prison Society and its activities, visit prisonsociety.org.