Pa. Prison Population Plummets by Most in History — Again

January 21, 2020, Harrisburg, Pa.—Pennsylvania’s prison population dropped by 1,495 individuals in 2019, according to new Department of Corrections numbers—the sharpest decline ever recorded.

The number of incarcerated Pennsylvanians declined in seven of the eight years since the first phase of the corrections reform packaged called the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) was enacted in 2012. During the same period the statewide crime rate has seen a dramatic drop.

Senate Bills 500 (Sen. Baker) and 501 (Sen. Killion), part of the second phase of JRI, were enacted into law on Dec. 18 last year, building on this progress.

“This is a testament to the value of smart justice reform” said Steve Bloom, vice president for the Commonwealth Foundation. “The reforms of 2012 and 2019 have prioritized correctional resources on violent criminals so we can help non-violent former inmates reintegrate into society. Now, it’s time for lawmakers to focus on those who are returning to their communities by passing occupational licensing reform and probation reform.”


(Graphic: Pennsylvania Prison Population)

Pennsylvania’s prison population peaked at 51,512 in 2013 and has since dropped by a total of 5,637.

Though the state’s prison population has decreased, the population of individuals on probation has remained the fifth highest in the nation. Violations of probation laws, even if merely technical, account for nearly one-quarter of prison admissions.*

“The goal of our justice system must be to make our commonwealth safe and to help those who have served their time to become good citizens and neighbors again,” explained Bloom. “A key factor in making that happen is ensuring that our probation and occupational licensing laws support former inmates in finding work and becoming independent so that they do not return to crime.”

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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*This percentage uses 2014 data of prison admissions due to probation revocation. When calculating both revocations and violation sanctions occurring outside prison facilities, the 2017 rate declines to 10% according to the Council of State Governments