There’s a common phrase about the criminal justice system: It’s a broken system.
But Piper Kerman, author of the screen-adapted novel “Orange is the New Black,” said at a panel on a Paradise Township farm Saturday that she doesn’t think that’s true. It’s working exactly how powerful people want it to work.
About 150 people packed a barn at Cherry Crest Adventure Farm for the daylong event “Maze of Injustice” hosted by the Vera Institute to hear from local and national criminal justice advocates like Kerman. Attendees could look at the quilts and a corn maze designed by Lancaster native and artist Jesse Krimes.
Krimes himself was once incarcerated, spending some of his time at Lancaster County Prison. The lifelong artist was arrested one month after graduating from Millersville University for possession of cocaine.
Krimes’ art hung around the barn. He said he hosted 24 workshops over two years to collect imagery from currently and formerly incarcerated people, as well as people working in social services and probation offices. Krimes used these images to design quilts. Mennonite and Amish communities then sewed the quilts, which Krimes said is to complement these communities’ historic connection to quilting.
At one of the event’s sessions, Krimes discussed his own experience of incarceration. He said he doesn’t think the system is working to deter people from committing a crime again.
“If you have a kid and you want them to be a productive member of society … you want to discipline your child,” Krimes said. “You want them to learn from that mistake; you don’t want to punish your child.”
“What our prison system does is it punishes,” he said.
The event featured several panels, including one about women and the criminal justice system that Kerman headlined, about the criminal justice system and how it impacts Lancaster County.
“What I’m finding is that the severity of crime is much higher in our rural areas like Denver, Willow Street,” said Lindsey Ober, the family services advocate at Compass Mark.
The panelists also discussed the increasing number of women who are incarcerated nationally and in the county. These women are resilient, said TaWanda Stallworth, program development director for Camp Curtin YWCA in Harrisburg, who also was once incarcerated.
Kerman encouraged people who want to see change in the criminal justice system to elect judges and district attorneys that favor restorative justice and trauma-informed approaches.
Lancaster County voters will have the opportunity to do just that this November when the offices of judge and district attorney appear on the ballot.
Local attorney Greg Paulson, a Democrat, faces Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman, a Republican, for a seat on the Lancaster County Court of Common Pleas.
In the district attorney race, Republican and local attorney Heather Adams is running against Democrat and local attorney Hobie Crystle.