Pa. Prison Population Plummets by Most in History

Pennsylvania’s prison population dropped by 1,068 individuals in 2018, according to new Department of Corrections numbers—the sharpest decline ever recorded.

The number of incarcerated Pennsylvanians declined in six of the seven years since the corrections reform packaged called the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) passed in 2012.

“This historic reduction in our prison population should be celebrated,” said Nathan Benefield, vice president and COO for the Commonwealth Foundation. “Seven years ago, Pennsylvania enacted a bipartisan corrections reform package that has proven to be an unquestionable success. We are locking up fewer people while crime rates continue to decline. It’s time for lawmakers to build on this momentum and advance reforms that improve sentencing and parole.”

(Graphic: Pennsylvania Prison Population)

Since JRI passed, the prison population has declined by a total of 3,814. Prior to this reform, this population had only declined three times.

However more work must be done to improve Pennsylvania’s corrections system.

That’s why the second Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI2), passed by the state Senate last year and endorsed by Gov. Wolf, addresses parole and probation, sentencing, and pretrial practices. Specifically, the initiative includes the following reforms:

  1. Address inefficient parole practices
  2. Establish effective sentencing guidelines
  3. Customize parole supervision
  4. Provide resources to the county probation system
  5. Expand support for crime victims
  6. Adopt fair pretrial practices

In late December, President Trump signed into law the First Step Act—a bipartisan federal corrections reform measure called “the most far-reaching overhaul of the criminal justice system in a generation,” illustrating that this issue crosses the ideological divide.

“In the new legislative session, state lawmakers should prioritize these bipartisan reforms,” explained Benefield. “The second phase of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative will improve the lives of Pennsylvanians and reduce costs without compromising safety.”

See Commonwealth Foundation’s report Safer Communities, Smarter Spending for more on the next phase of criminal justice reform.

Commonwealth Foundation experts are available for comment. Please contact Michael Torres at 850-619-2737 or [email protected] to schedule an interview.

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