Time for Pennsylvania to Get Right on Crime

Last week on NPR, former U.S. Attorney General and Pennsylvania Gov. Dick Thornburgh joined Adam Gelb, director for Pew’s Public Safety Performance Project, to discuss criminal justice policy.

The issue, as former Gov. Thornburgh stated: “We have more people in prison than any other country in the world. We have instituted all kinds of what we call tough sentencing regimens…and it isn’t working.”

This is especially relevant for the commonwealth because the cost of the Department of Corrections has skyrocketed to $1.8 billion. Corrections is the third- largest department in the Pennsylvania General Fund budget.

The situation need not stay bleak, as meaningful correction reform can control costs while continuing to protect public safety, and reduce recidivism. The question NPR identified is whether criminal justice reform has public buy-in. Thornburgh concluded that we need political leaders to deliver the message that “what we have right now is simply not working. It’s not effective, it’s not efficient. It’s not in the best interests of the broad spectrum of society…”

A few meaningful reforms mentioned during the program include:

Expanded use of technology such as GPS monitors. For example, a Florida study found offenders on GPS were 31 percent less likely to return to prison than those not being monitored.

Front-end risk assessment to distinguish between high-risk offenders that need to be locked up from non-violent offenders. Nationally, up to half of prison admissions are individuals revoked from probation or parole, not from violent crimes.

Drug treatment facilities. Drug courts offer intensive judicial oversight of offenders combined with mandatory drug testing and escalating sanctions for failure to comply.

For more on corrections reform, check out our Policy Points with  criminal justice recommendations and track criminal justice reforms across the country at Right On Crime.