EDITORIAL: Building a team for reform
Occasionally, there is a bill in the state Legislature that really seem like a good idea, something that seems so right that it's hard to believe no one has thought of it before.
And sometimes, that bill will get support from people you wouldn't normally think of compatriots.
That rare configuration of events happened in Harrisburg recently, when members of the Philadelphia Eagles met with Sen. Scott Wagner and other legislators to talk about the Clean Slate bill.
Wagner, R-Spring Garden Township, teamed up with Democrat (!) Sen. Anthony Williams, Delaware and Philadelphia counties, to introduce the legislation, which would create a process to automatically seal nonviolent misdemeanor convictions after a person has gone 10 years without any additional violations. It would not apply to certain offenses, including crimes involving firearms, sexual offenses and cruelty to animals.
Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins was one of the football players who met with Wagner. Jenkins has been raising his fist in the air during the national anthem at all Eagles football games this season to stand for racial equality and reform to the criminal justice system, he has said.
Jenkins and teammates Torrey Smith and Chris Long said that they have been trying to change the environment in their communities that creates racial inequities.
"One of the things we've seen when it comes to contributing to poverty and lack of opportunity in some of our communities has pushed us to focus on our criminal justice system," Jenkins said.
Wagner agreed and stressed that the working to reform in the criminal justice system is something that both Republicans and Democrats should be working toward.
"A lot of inmates leave (jail), and there are no jobs for them; that's a problem," Wagner said. "We need to help them while they're inside the prison with training, so they're ready to work when they get out."
That's a well-thought-out stance, senator. Nicely done.
The criminal justice system takes a huge toll on African-American communities around the country. Black Americans are five times more likely to be incarcerated than whites, according to the NAACP. African-Americans and Hispanics make up 32 percent of the U.S. population but were 56 percent of the prison population in 2015, the NAACP said.
And once people are freed, the injustice continues. A criminal record reduces the chances for a job offer by 50 percent, the NAACP said.
"Plenty of men and women who served their debt to society deserve a second chance," Smith said. "(Criminal records are) keeping people in poverty (and) keeping people hopeless."
Legislation such as the Clean Slate bill can help people recover from a stumble that lands them in prison and get them on track to returning to their communities and finding productive jobs.
Many times, those great ideas will appear when legislators like Wagner and Williams are just looking to improve efficiency in society, not necessarily to promote a certain agenda.
And sometimes those great ideas will earn you a visit from a bunch of NFL players.
"We can all benefit from something where more people are getting second chances, less people are disenfranchised," said Long, who recently said he's donating his salary to educational causes. "It doesn't have to affect you to care about it."