Pennsylvania's Justice Reinvestment Initiative Efforts
Justice Reinvestment Overview
Justice Reinvestment in Pennsylvania
May 23, 2012 PRESENTATION
Impact of Justice Reinvestment - Population vs. Bed Space
Correctional Newsfront, 2012-No. 4 (Pennsylvania Department of Corrections)
Criminal Justice Reform Act
Signed Into Law
On July 5, 2012, Gov. Tom Corbett signed into law legislation that will significantly change the state’s criminal justice system, and the corrections system in particular.
Gov. Corbett signed into law Senate Bill 100, which is now Act 122 of 2012 – the Criminal Justice Reform Act.
“Senate Bill 100 was the legislative vehicle to implement Justice Reinvestment Initiative recommendations,” Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said. “We are very excited about this Act, because it provides us with an opportunity to greatly improve the state’s criminal justice system over the next few years.”
Wetzel said the law allows corrections officials to focus on their mission of delivering programs, education and job training to inmates in an effort to prevent them from committing future crime, thus reducing recidivism and reducing crime.
“It allows us to focus our resources in the right places,” he said.
What is unique about this law is that legislation passed both chambers unanimously. This was a bi-partisan effort to make improvements, and nearly every group with an interest in this effort was involved in the process, including sentencing judges, district attorneys, victims’ rights groups, inmate advocacy groups and employees from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole, the Sentencing Commission, the Department of Corrections, the Department of Public Welfare, juvenile justice officials and more.
The law makes the following changes:
-Expand the eligibility of intermediate punishment for an offense involving drugs and alcohol.
-See that parole violators, in most cases, are returned to community corrections centers
rather than a state prison.
-Ban individuals convicted of certain misdemeanors from being sentenced to state prison.
-Eliminate state inmate pre-release.
-Creation of a risk-assessment tool for judges to use when sentencing individuals.
“A major change to the corrections system is the elimination of pre-release,” Wetzel said.
“Essentially it has been an early release for inmates. In Pennsylvania, we and the governor believe in truth-in-sentencing, and this ensures the offenders will serve 100 percent of their minimum sentences.”
Wetzel said this also will save the DOC’s resources.
“A lot of resources are spent on the pre-release review, approval and placement process; and yet only one-third of those offenders reviewed for pre-release actually even get approved for pre-release. And of those on pre-release, one-third of them fail.”
Wetzel said the pre-release process is a huge drain on DOC resources that simply doesn’t work.
“It doesn’t make sense to continue doing something (the pre-release system was begun in the late 1960s/early 1970s) just because it’s always been done,” Wetzel emphasized. “If something doesn’t work, we are going to fix it or eliminate it. In this case, the best thing to do was eliminate pre-release. It just doesn’t work.”
The legislation allows for better use of the community corrections system. Over the next year, DOC officials will work to restructure that system.
As a result of this change, employees and inmates have been notified that as of January 1, 2013, pre-release will no longer exist. However, for those inmates who already were approved for pre-release placement and whose minimum sentence expiration date does not go beyond May 31, 2013, the DOC will continue to process those offenders through the community corrections system. All others will not be considered. An option available to them now remains parole eligibility upon reaching their minimum sentence date.
“There were a lot of offenders and citizens who assumed pre-release was a right – that it was something that automatically happened as they neared their minimum,” Wetzel said. “That was never the case. Thorough review was necessary, and as I said previously, required a lot of resources.”
Wetzel said that now those resources can be used to prepare inmates for parole and ensure that those offenders who have completed all programs and are eligible for a parole hearing get one in a timely manner.
“This is an exciting time, especially for the Department of Corrections,” Wetzel said. “We are working on improving our system and having those improvements reduce future crime. A side benefit of that is that we hope to see a reduction, over time, in our state prison inmate population. If that happens, you’ll see a reduction in the amount of money necessary to operate the DOC.”
Wetzel urges everyone to stay tuned as this is just the beginning of an historic shift in the corrections continuum.