Bipartisan Group to Study Pennsylvania Criminal Justice System

Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau

By Karen Langley

HARRISBURG — High-ranking Pennsylvania officials from both parties joined Thursday to announce a new review of the state’s criminal justice system.

Despite recent reductions in prison population, they said, Pennsylvania has the highest incarceration rate among the states in the Northeast.

This will be the state’s second engagement in recent years with the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, through which officials from state and local governments work with analysts from the Council of State Governments Justice Center, a national nonprofit organization, in an attempt to reduce inefficiencies in the corrections system and invest savings in public safety efforts.

As a result of an initial Justice Reinvestment effort, Pennsylvania in 2012 enacted changes to areas such as parole practices and community corrections programs.

After the state’s prison population had grown from 40,090 people in 2002 to 51,184 people in 2012, it dropped to 49,914 people by the end of 2015, according to the governor’s office. The changes saved almost $13 million, almost $4 million of which was spent to enhance public safety, in areas such as services for victims and effective policing procedures.

This time, officials said, efforts will focus on the ”front end” of the corrections system, on areas such as bail decisions and sentencing. The plan is to develop policy options that could be introduced as legislation in 2017.

Those on stage to announce the initiative Thursday included Democrats such as Gov. Tom Wolf and Commission on Crime and Delinquency Chairman Josh Shapiro, along with Republicans such as Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Stewart Greenleaf and state Rep. Mike Vereb, who said he was representing House Judiciary Committee Chairman Ron Marsico.

“We want to intervene more effectively early on in the process so that we’re not creating a criminal system that actually creates more crime, that we’re actually reducing crime,” Mr. Wolf said.

The initiative will be paid for with money from The Pew Charitable Trusts and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance. The Council of State Governments Justice Center says it has worked on Justice Reinvestment efforts in 25 states, with four states undertaking the initiative twice.