Corrections Reform for Safer Communities

Nowadays, Republicans and Democrats struggle to find common ground. In the rare moments when they do, you can be sure you’ve got a winning policy.

Last week, the Pennsylvania Senate prioritized smart criminal justice reform by unanimously passing the three-bill Justice Reinvestment Initiative II (JRI II).

Passed by the Senate for a second year in a row, Senate Bills 500 (Sen. Lisa Baker), 501 (Sen. Tom Killion), and 502 (Sens. Camera Bartolotta, Vincent Hughes, and Art Hayward) constitute one of the most ambitious criminal justice reforms in Pennsylvania history. The package of JRI II bills would implement a transformative strategy designed by a bipartisan team of legislators, district attorneys, police officers, and county commissioners.

JRI II builds upon proven success.

The first phase of JRI (passed in 2012) saved an estimated $400 million in corrections costs and successfully decreased the inmate population by historic rates. Most importantly, Pennsylvania experienced a simultaneous 18 percent crime rate decline.

Given Pennsylvania’s incarceration and community supervision (e.g. probation and parole) rates rank among the highest in the nation, the following reforms will impact thousands of Pennsylvanians through fairer sentencing and more effective rehabilitation—prioritizing taxpayer resources and promoting community strength and safety.

SB 500 – Probation Reinvestment

Probation and parole violators populate one-third of state prison beds. This is partially due to county probation and parole departments serving a ballooning caseload without adequate funds or best-practice supports.

SB 500 reinvests anticipated savings into these departments and establishes a state committee to gather data and dispense evidence-based guidance and training.

The result: decreased recidivism and incarceration as probation and parole departments better integrate individuals back into society.

SB 501 – Sentencing Enhancement

Complexity in sentencing guidelines limits their practical application, meaning the best recidivism-reducing options (including effective drug rehabilitation programs) are underutilized and inconsistently applied across the state.

SB 501 refines sentencing guidelines, prioritizing options proven to most effectively help defendants rejoin their communities and the workforce. This will create a fairer, more effective sentencing process, fostering decreased recidivism from the start of the corrections process.

This bill further provides automatic parole for qualifying individuals serving non-violent, short-term sentences and equips parole agents to more effectively deal with probation violations. It prioritizes resources for more serious offenders, simultaneously deterring crime and promoting rehabilitation.

SB 502 – Victim Support

Pennsylvania crime victims too often remain unaware of their rights. SB 502 improves victim rights communication and expands eligibility requirements for victim compensation.

By also passing JRI II, House members can maintain this momentum toward a fair corrections system that better achieves the goal of criminal justice: safer communities and more independent, productive citizens.