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Identity & Community

'Geographic Prison' Enforced By License Suspension Laws Up For Debate With Two PA Bills

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Keith Srakocic
/
AP
People pass signs telling of the requirement for voters to show an acceptable photo ID to vote as they head into the the PennDOT Drivers License Center in Butler on Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2012.

Legislation is being introduced to end driver's license suspensions for people convicted of a non-vehicle related crimes.

Currently, charges including theft, purchase of alcohol and tobacco as a minor, carrying a false identification card and drug possession can result in a license suspension that can last several years after a prison sentence is carried out.

House Bill 42 and House Bill 163, both sponsored by State Rep. Rick Saccone (R-Allegheny, Washington), would offer a pathway for ID reinstatement. He hosted an event Friday at the Trade Institute of Pittsburgh introducing fellow legislators to several ex-offenders still affected by the current law. Many told lawmakers they completed their prison sentences years ago.

"You could see the changes in the looks of the legislators [while hearing the testimonials]," said Khalif Ali, director of public policy and advocacy for the Pittsburgh Foundation, which sponsors efforts dedicated to criminal justice reform. "I think we did make a connection and I think this is a significant step in the right direction."

Several offenders said being barred from driving can be a huge barrier to getting work after prison time.

Joyce Douglass, a retired state parole officer, said she saw the current law as an unfair burden on people seeking a second chance. She compared it to a "geographic prison."

"When I worked for all those years, every time I ran into this situation I thought to myself, who in the world thinks this is a good idea? Why doesn't somebody do something about this?" she said.