Pennsylvania has used a robust Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) approach two times in the last decade, in 2012 and 2017, with assistance from The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center and funding from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Assistance and The Pew Charitable Trusts. In both projects, the commonwealth exemplified a broad approach to justice system improvements while targeting support for victims of crime.
In the first JRI effort, focus groups with victim advocates and service providers revealed the increasing complexities of responding to the needs of victims and survivors while available resources were decreasing. The project’s policy framework recommended targeting investments where the greatest level of victim and survivor need could be demonstrated through data-driven measures such as the Empowerment and Satisfaction Questionnaire developed by victim advocates, which evaluates clients’ satisfaction with victim service providers. To further support this goal, victim services were one of five areas where savings from reduced corrections costs could be reinvested.
JRI 2.0 (2017)
The second JRI project, dubbed “JRI 2.0” by then-Secretary of Corrections John Wetzel, doubled down on attention to victims of crime. One of the six policy options in that project focused on increasing the efficacy of victim notification and improving access to the Victim Compensation Assistance Program operated by the Commission on Crime and Delinquency.
The next legislative session did not result in the adoption of JRI legislation, but in late 2019, Acts 114 and 155 passed the General Assembly and embodied many of the recommendations from JRI 2.0, including improvements to sentencing and funding for probation. There was a third piece of legislation (Senate Bill [SB] 502) that reflected the victims-focused policy option, but it did not make it to final passage.
HB 2464 (2022)
In 2022, the Pennsylvania General Assembly completed the JRI 2.0 policy package and fulfilled the intention to improve services to victims of crime by passing HB 2464 which is based on SB 502 from 2019. The bill amends the Crime Victims Act of 1998 and includes the following provisions:
- Update multiple definitions, including the listing of additional crimes covered by the Act and personal injury crimes.
- Elaborate on the requirements for law enforcement notification of victim rights.
- Require prosecutors to notify victims of prison time resulting from personal injury crimes so that the victim can secure further notifications from the Department of Corrections.
- Establish the independence of the Office of Victim Advocate and the authority to advocate for victims of crime generally, not just in individual cases.
- Ensure the confidentiality of victim information held by the Office of Victim Advocate.
- Enable crime victim compensation funding for counseling for victims of sexual abuse.
- Increase the deadline for filing a claim for victim compensation from two to five years and allow a “good cause” exception for claims older than five years.
- Allow the Office of Victim Services discretion to make emergency awards without a statutory cap of $1,500.
- Remove the 72-hour rule for reporting a crime to law enforcement to be eligible for compensation.
Pennsylvania’s second JRI is now complete and serves as a powerful example for other states of how to improve services and outcomes for victims of crime as part of JRI or other criminal justice system improvements.
This project was supported by Grant No. 2019-ZB-BX-K002 awarded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance. The Bureau of Justice Assistance is a component of the Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs, which also includes the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the National Institute of Justice, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the Office for Victims of Crime, and the SMART Office. Points of view or opinions in this document are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.
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