Responsible, smart reforms are paying dividends in Pennsylvania’s correction system—and recently passed reforms aim to build upon this success.
The state Department of Corrections released a statement and infographic showing a consistent, drastic reduction in crime over the past 20 years. According to FBI data, the crime rate declined 45% and is consistently lower than the national average. Individual crime types—including property and violent crimes—also decreased, with the exception of rape (the reporting standards of which changed) and murder, also reflecting a general national trend.
The decline happened amidst numerous changes to the criminal justice system, such as prison openings and closings, the invalidation of numerous mandatory minimum sentences, and reforms that decreased the prison population.
This includes the Justice Reinvestment Initiative 1 (JRI) from 2012. A project of the Council of State Governments and key Pennsylvania stakeholders, JRI 1 implemented best practices from other states, generating savings that were reinvested into an improved corrections system. As a result, the prison population declined by 4,300 inmates from its nearly 52,000 peak in June 2012 compared to 2018, and most importantly crime dropped 29%.
Recognizing this success—that we can responsibly send fewer Pennsylvanians to jail while enhancing safety–and the potential to continue improvements, the legislature passed and Governor Wolf signed the Justice Reinvestment Initiative 2 (JRI 2).
Senate Bills 500 (Sen. Baker) and 501 (Sen. Killion), JRI 2 will institute changes such as better access to drug treatment, automatic parole for non-violent short-term offenders, and improved data-sharing on potential parolees. The anticipated savings will be reinvested where resources are most needed—at county probation departments and improved sentencing practices. Passing the third bill in the JRI 2 package (Senate Bill 502) will further enhance victim compensation.
JRI 2 joins a list of changes, such as first-in-the-nation “Clean Slate” record expungement and Act 95 limiting driver’s license suspensions for non-driving infractions, meant to spend money where it’s most efficient—on dangerous criminals—and keep more Pennsylvanians crime-free.
It’s encouraging to see Pennsylvania lead on smart, effective, evidence-driven changes that will continue to make our communities safer.