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PUBLICATIONS

Pennsylvania

Between December 1999 and April 2007, the prison population in Pennsylvania increased 24 percent, far outpacing the growth of the commonwealth’s adult resident population.i In 2007, one in 28 adults in Pennsylvania were in prison, on probation, or on parole, costing taxpayers more than $1.8 billion.ii The state’s incarceration rate has increased 280% since 1982.iii Factors contributing to the increase in the state’s incarceration rates and costs include:

• an increasing percentage of offenders with “less severe offenses” being admitted to prison;

• high failure rates among people under community supervision;

• high re-incarceration rates that may be due in part to inmates not receiving effective programming;

• a steady stream of admissions of inmates who had previously served time in county jails without receiving appropriate programs, treatment, or reentry training.

A legislative package (Acts 81-84 of 2008) enacted in the Fall of 2008 was designed to reduce recidivism and diminish the need to build more prisons. It included four key provisions relevant to improving public safety and slowing the increase in prison costs: (1) providing incentives to certain lower-risk inmates to complete programs that reduce recidivism; (2) allowing the Board of Probation and Parole to focus supervision resources on offenders in their critical first year on parole when the risk of recidivism is greatest; (3) providing more access to drug-treatment programs, and (4) authorizing the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing to develop parole guidelines based on best practices and available research.

Despite these efforts, the state’s prison population has continued to grow. Largely for this reason, the 2009-10 Pennsylvania state budget included a $175.2 million increase in corrections spending.iv The state’s leading conservative think tank, The Commonwealth Foundation, recommended that policymakers enhance the utilization of alternatives that have been proven to reduce recidivism among nonviolent offenders, such as drug courts, electronic monitoring, and intermediate sanctions imposed by probation and parole officers for rules violations.v

In 2012, Pennsylvania followed Commonwealth’s advice and passed HB 100 and HB 135, two justice reinvestment packages that identify savings in the state corrections budget  and reinvest those savings in county-level alternatives to incarceration. Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, a Republican from Alleghany County, is enthusiastic about the prospects of success for the justice reinvestment bills: “Working together, we can deal with crime in a way that will redeem more offenders, appropriately incarcerates violent offenders and sexual predators, and keeps us all from being held prisoner to the growing costs of locking up the bad guys.”


i Pennsylvania Public Safety Policy Solutions, Pew Center on the States Public Safety Performance Project.
ii “Prison Overcrowding Solutions,” Commonwealth Foundation ,16 Nov. 2009.
iii Ibid.
iv Ibid.
v “Pennsylvania Corrections Spending,” Commonwealth Foundation, 15 Oct. 2009.

Evidence-Based Corrections in Pennsylvania

Right on Crime | December 9, 2011
The State of Pennsylvania’s Corrections Secretary John Wetzel has been at the job for less than a year, but he has already begun transforming Pennsylvania corrections. Read more

Penn Law Review Symposium: “Sentencing Law: Rhetoric and Reality”

Right on Crime | September 30, 2011
On October 28th and 29th, the University of Pennsylvania Law Review, is hosting a symposium on the issues surrounding American sentencing law.  The two-day seminar will feature a number…

Pennsylvania’s Recidivism Crisis

Right on Crime | July 7, 2011
A recent report from the Philadelphia Daily News indicates that more than half of Pennsylvania’s former inmates are back behind bars within five years. In the last five years,…

How Effective Re-Entry Programs Promote Conservative Values

Right on Crime | February 1, 2011
John McWhorter of The Manhattan Institute recently wrote an interesting piece at The Root about prisoner re-entry programs. Parole and re-entry programs often provide very basic services -- but…

Senate Bill 1161 is Signed into Law in Pennsylvania

Right on Crime | October 31, 2010
The Commonwealth Foundation published an article last month entitled "Being Tough on Crime is Not Enough." In the piece, Commonwealth suggested a variety of ways that Pennsylvania could reform…
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