Pa. Leading Nation on Smart Justice Reform

December 18, 2019, Harrisburg, Pa. – Today, the Pa. Legislature passed two bills that firmly establish Pennsylvania as a national leader on criminal justice reform. Senate Bills 500 and 501, which are part of the second phase of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI 2), passed with bi-partisan support in the House and Senate and will be signed by Gov. Wolf.

“This is a much-needed step toward making Pennsylvania’s corrections system more efficient, more cost-effective, and better equipped to protect public safety,” said Commonwealth Foundation President and CEO Charles Mitchell. “These bills build on Pennsylvania’s landmark Justice Reinvestment Initiative of 2012 and last year’s Clean Slate Act by prioritizing resources on violent criminals so we can focus on making communities safer while helping non-violent former inmates reintegrate into society.”

Since the first phase of JRI, Pennsylvania has experienced a 29 percent drop in crime while seeing historic declines in prison population. JRI 2 builds on that success by implementing proven reforms supported by an array of stakeholders that will enhance the commonwealth’s justice system.

Senate Bill 500, sponsored by Sen. Lisa Baker, will provide critical resources and training to county-based parole and probation systems. Pennsylvania has the second highest rate of individuals on parole or probation in the nation. Senate Bill 500 will reinvest savings in county offices responsible for ensuring former inmates find employment and do not return to crime. 

Senate Bill 501, sponsored by Sen. Tom Killion, improves sentencing and parole practices to match sentences to offenders’ community risk, protect the public, and reduce overincarceration. Additionally, this bill will lower costs by an estimated $45 million annually by reducing the state’s high parolee recidivism rate. The savings will be reinvested to strengthen probation and parole systems at the county level as outlined in SB 500.

“It is fantastic to see legislative leaders and a bi-partisan coalition of lawmakers and stakeholders come together to get this reform done,” said Mitchell. “As with the federal First Step Act, we’ve seen Democrats and Republicans work together to develop legislation that will make our communities safer while making sure reformed inmates take meaningful steps away from crime and toward independence.”

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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