Senator Sharif Street launches 'redemption tour' to end life sentences without possibility of parole

Street is trying to drum up support for Senate Bill 942.

Pat Loeb
July 06, 2018 - 8:30 pm
Shariff Street

Tony Romeo | KYW Newsradio

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) -- Pennsylvania state Senator Sharif Street is trying to drum up support for a bill he's introduced that would permit parole hearings for inmates who've been sentenced to life in prison. Street has embarked on what he calls a "redemption tour" to explain the need for the bill.

William Harris was a child when his father, William Smith, was sentenced to life, 47 years ago, for taking part in a crime in which someone was murdered.

"I feel sorry for what happened, my father did something really dumb," Harris said, "but the truth of the matter is he didn't take a life and I don't think the punishment fit the crime."

William Harris
Pat Loeb | KYW Newsradio

Smith, now 76, will be released soon. He won an unusual commutation based on his extraordinary record in prison, which includes not only model behavior but a theology degree, a full-time job as a cable installer, and a recording contract with his band, the Power of Attorney.

Harris is on the redemption tour for Senate Bill 942 which would allow defendants, such as his father, to apply for parole. Sponsor Sharif Street says 12% of lifers in the state, like Smith, did not take a life and many have been rehabilitated.

"It gives us a mechanism for deciding who should serve the rest of their life in jail and who should be released," Street said. "People change, and I do believe in the power of redemption."