Pennsylvania is one step closer to another landmark criminal justice reform. Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously passed the Justice Reinvestment Initiative II (JRI II). This three-bill reform package improves public safety by creating a fairer, more efficient criminal justice system.
Everyone agrees that Pennsylvania’s justice system needs help. From licensing reform to prevent recidivism, to dignity for women prisoners, to a more equitable parole process, there are numerous opportunities to make an impact. But JRI II has focused on the comprehensive, data-driven solutions that hold the greatest potential to end Pennsylvania’s record as “imprisonment king of the Northeast.”
JRI II builds upon proven success. In 2012 the legislature passed the first phase of reform (JRI), which has now contributed to historic decreases in the prison population and a corresponding 18 percent decrease in crime.
Incredibly, these reforms have saved Pennsylvania taxpayers $400 million.
But visit so many Pennsylvania communities, and you’ll see: our criminal justice system can do better. The JRI II reforms listed below will save and reinvest an estimated $48 million back into the system.
Support for County Probation
Nearly three-quarters of the state’s corrections population is on probation or parole, yet the vast majority of these cases are handled by county departments that lack guidance and funding.
That’s a recipe for recidivism.
Indeed, one-third of state prison beds are filled by probation and parole violators—costing over $400 million annually to send these individuals back to prison.
- SB 500 (sponsored by Sen. Lisa Baker) reinvests in county probation and parole departments, providing evidence-based guidance and training to address probationers’ needs.
Enhances Sentencing Practices
Complex, inconsistent sentencing guidance fosters overincarceration and inequitable sentencing, and limits individuals from accessing effective rehabilitation programs. Reforming sentencing and parole practices will ensure sentences match the crime, while protecting communities.
- SB 501 (sponsored by Sen. Thomas Killion) improves sentencing guidelines to prioritize the most effective sentences and enhance access to drug treatment programs, which effectively reduce recidivism and save taxpayers approximately $33,700 per participant.
- It also provides automatic parole for individuals serving non-violent, short-term sentences—prioritizing resources for more serious offenders—and equips parole agents to more effectively deal with probation violations.
Expanded Victim Support
Often, victims of crime never learn of their right to redress.
- SB 502 (sponsored by Sens. Camera Bartolotta, Vincent Hughes, and Art Hayward) improves victim rights communication and expands eligibility requirements for victim compensation.
Pennsylvania will thrive as more individuals achieve independence. JRI II enables the criminal justice system to forge an easier path to community and workforce reintegration—instead of prison. In the process, our communities will become safer and taxpayer burdens will become lighter.
We commend members of the Senate Judiciary Committee for passing JRI II, and urge all elected officials to support these reforms.