President Trump and Gov. Tom Wolf agree: minimum sentencing laws are counterproductive. Last Wednesday, President Trump announced his support of the FIRST STEP Act. The bill gives federal judges more discretion when it comes to sentencing, especially concerning drug crimes.
We wholeheartedly support this reform, as explained in a recent letter to U.S. Senators, and are working to ensure a similar measure is adopted in Pennsylvania.
FIRST STEP Letter of Support on Scribd
Back in Pennsylvania, Gov. Wolf is opposed to mandatory minimums and favors further sentencing reform. In fact, better sentencing guidelines is a component of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative II (JRI II), which stalled in the state House this fall.
Our Safer Communities, Smarter Spending brief explains the problem:
The lack of information about sentencing options available to judges within current guidelines produces sentences that vary by county. For instance, people with similar criminal histories who commit felony retail theft could be sentenced to county prison, probation, state prison, or county intermediate punishment, depending on their location. Judges are given no information about which choice may best reduce recidivism. . .
The Pennsylvania Sentencing Commission should revise sentencing guidelines to provide judges information about which sentencing options have the best recidivism outcomes to ensure people with similar convictions and criminal histories are treated equally.
The evidence is clear. Mandatory minimums increased the prison population without improving public safety. According to Families Against the Mandatory Minimums, “the state prison population dropped for the fourth consecutive year in 2017 and is at its lowest level since 2008. The Department of Corrections (DOC) states that the Supreme Court’s invalidation of mandatory minimums 'played a key role in driving the reduction.'” In addition, recidivism rates have remained fairly stable.
Continuing to improve sentencing is key to reducing recidivism rates and making our corrections systems more effecient. The Council of State Governments estimates the total JRI II package, including sentencing reform, could reduce the prison population by 696 and save approximately $48.3 million over five years.