State Initiatives: Pennsylvania

Between December 1999 and April 2007, the prison population in Pennsylvania increased 24 percent, far outpacing the growth of the commonwealth's adult resident population.i In 2007, one in 28 adults in Pennsylvania were in prison, on probation, or on parole, costing taxpayers more than $1.8 billion.ii The state's incarceration rate has increased 280% since 1982.iii Factors contributing to the increase in the state’s incarceration rates and costs include:

• an increasing percentage of offenders with "less severe offenses" being admitted to prison;

• high failure rates among people under community supervision;

• high re-incarceration rates that may be due in part to inmates not receiving effective programming;

• a steady stream of admissions of inmates who had previously served time in county jails without receiving appropriate programs, treatment, or reentry training.

A legislative package (Acts 81-84 of 2008) enacted in the Fall of 2008 was designed to reduce recidivism and diminish the need to build more prisons. It included four key provisions relevant to improving public safety and slowing the increase in prison costs: (1) providing incentives to certain lower-risk inmates to complete programs that reduce recidivism; (2) allowing the Board of Probation and Parole to focus supervision resources on offenders in their critical first year on parole when the risk of recidivism is greatest; (3) providing more access to drug-treatment programs, and (4) authorizing the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing to develop parole guidelines based on best practices and available research.

Despite these efforts, the state’s prison population has continued to grow. Largely for this reason, the 2009-10 Pennsylvania state budget included a $175.2 million increase in corrections spending.iv The state’s leading conservative think tank, The Commonwealth Foundation, recommended that policymakers enhance the utilization of alternatives that have been proven to reduce recidivism among nonviolent offenders, such as drug courts, electronic monitoring, and intermediate sanctions imposed by probation and parole officers for rules violations.v

In 2012, Pennsylvania followed Commonwealth's advice and passed HB 100 and HB 135, two justice reinvestment packages that identify savings in the state corrections budget  and reinvest those savings in county-level alternatives to incarceration. Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, a Republican from Alleghany County, is enthusiastic about the prospects of success for the justice reinvestment bills: "Working together, we can deal with crime in a way that will redeem more offenders, appropriately incarcerates violent offenders and sexual predators, and keeps us all from being held prisoner to the growing costs of locking up the bad guys.”

i Pennsylvania Public Safety Policy Solutions, Pew Center on the States Public Safety Performance Project.
iiPrison Overcrowding Solutions,” Commonwealth Foundation ,16 Nov. 2009.
iii Ibid.
iv Ibid.
vPennsylvania Corrections Spending,” Commonwealth Foundation, 15 Oct. 2009.

  • Vikrant Reddy: “Three myths about conservatives and criminal justice”

    Posted in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Prisons, ROC Blog, South Dakota, State Initiatives, Texas: October 11, 2013 by Vikrant P. Reddy

    Vikrant Reddy details 3 myths about conservatives and criminal justice – and proves why they aren’t true. Read the whole article here.

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    Posted in Adult Probation, Georgia, Law Enforcement, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Prisons, ROC Blog, South Carolina, State Initiatives, Texas, Victims: September 30, 2013 by Right on Crime

    Following Marc Levin’s testimony before the U.S. Judiciary Committee, this Fox News story features Right on Crime, noting that “The project has since been part of recent, successful efforts in Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and South Carolina to reform their systems through such changes as reducing penalties for low-level drug possessions; expanding the use of time- […]

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  • Norquist-Gleason: Holder follows GOP lead in easing harsh drug laws

    Posted in Georgia, Law Enforcement, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Prisons, ROC Blog, South Carolina, State Initiatives, Substance Abuse, Texas: September 27, 2013 by Right on Crime

    ROC signatory Grover Norquist co-authors this Reuters op-ed with Patrick Gleason, in which they further discuss how U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is late to the party regarding criminal justice reforms, noting that “it has been Republicans in the states who are leading the way.” “Consider Texas, where the smart-on-crime policy reform movement began in […]

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  • Harsh Results from Civil Asset Forfeiture Abuse

    Posted in Other, Pennsylvania, Priority Issues, ROC Blog, State Initiatives: August 27, 2013 by Derek M. Cohen

    Recent coverage in both popular and independent media has drawn national attention to the practice of civil asset forfeiture. Civil asset forfeiture (or CAF) is the practice of taking legal action against an inanimate object for its alleged role in criminal activity, regardless of the owner’s complicity.

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  • NPR Weekend Edition Saturday: “What’s Wrong With Mandatory Sentencing?”

    Posted in Audio, Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Prisons, South Carolina, Substance Abuse: August 17, 2013 by Right on Crime

    Marc Levin: “[there] are better ways to [hold offenders accountable] than mandatory minimums, particularly when it comes to non-violent offenders. And we think that the attorney general is a bit late to the party. It’s five years into the administration; and we’ve seen states like Ohio, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Georgia, already roll back their excessive […]

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  • Levin & Reddy: Conservatives Welcome Eric Holder to the Criminal-Justice-Reform Bandwagon

    Posted in Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Prisons, ROC Blog, South Dakota, State Initiatives, Texas: August 13, 2013 by Right on Crime

    In this National Review piece, Marc Levin and Vikrant Reddy state: “Since 2010, conservative legislatures in Ohio, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and South Dakota have passed major criminal-justice-reform packages. In 2007, Texas passed a reform package that avoided nearly $2 billion in prison construction costs by dedicating a far smaller amount to drug courts, electronic monitoring, and […]

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  • David Keene op-ed in Salem Statesman-Journal

    Posted in Kentucky, Oregon, Pennsylvania, ROC Blog, South Dakota, Texas: May 13, 2013 by Right on Crime

    In an op-ed published in today’s Statesman Journal,  Right on Crime signatory and NRA president David Keene urges conservatives to examine whether taxpayers are getting the most from the money spent on public safety. He highlights state data that shows Oregon’s criminal justice system is not passing this cost-benefit test. While Oregon has been a leader […]

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  • Free Beacon: Taking On Crime

    Posted in Georgia, Pennsylvania, ROC Blog, South Carolina, State Initiatives, Texas: April 23, 2013 by Right on Crime

    Excerpt from The Washington Free Beacon, originally published April 23, 2013 by Andrew Evans Texas faced a choice in 2007: spend billions on new prisons to house its convicts or find creative ways to deal with criminals in the state. State leaders chose the second option, and Texas’ reforms, which have been championed by the […]

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  • Two Smart on Crime States Post Results

    Posted in Adult Probation, Pennsylvania, Priority Issues, ROC Blog, South Carolina, State Initiatives: February 8, 2013 by Jeanette Moll

    Taxpayers in Pennsylvania are footing the bill for 454 fewer inmates this month than they were a year ago, while South Carolina’s citizens are paying for 2,700 fewer inmates. Why? Pennsylvania created a more effective parole and processing system, while recent legislative alterations to drug and low-level crimes…

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  • Zero-Tolerance, Zero Sense?

    Posted in Juvenile Justice, Pennsylvania, Priority Issues, ROC Blog, State Initiatives: January 24, 2013 by Jeanette Moll

    The good intentions of bolstering school safety that created the zero-tolerance system of automatic suspensions and expulsions for certain behavior are increasingly evaporating across the United States.

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