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September 23, 2008

Pennsylvania on verge of notable sentencing reforms

As detailed in this local story and this AP account, important sentencing reforms are working their way through Pennsylvania.  Here are the basics from the local reporting:

Nonviolent offenders could spend less time in prison if they complete educational programs and demonstrate good behavior, under legislation before Gov. Ed Rendell.

Proponents say the measures represent the biggest sentencing reforms in Pennsylvania since violent-crime rates started building in the 1980s, leading to a flurry of tougher mandatory minimum prison terms and longer sentences. Supporters say the new measures should lower the risk of repeat offenses and help curb a 25-year trend of higher inmate populations and prison construction....

Most state law-enforcement groups have supported the package. State Attorney General Tom Corbett opposes the legislation. He said Monday that the bills water down Pennsylvania's tradition of being a "truth-in-sentencing" state.

But state House Speaker Dennis O'Brien, R-Philadelphia, Beard, and other supporters noted that all of the breaks envisioned in the new bills require the consent of local prosecutors and judges.  "This represents a new approach to criminal justice for offenders convicted of nonviolent crimes," O'Brien said. "It will make the public safer, ensure that offenders receive services essential to break the cycle of crime ... and ensure that crime victims are treated fairly."

In the AP story, AG Corbett has this notable quote: "'I am going to take a look at what the crime rate is when that goes into effect, and I want to see what it looks like five years from now,' said Corbett, a Republican currently seeking re-election."  I think this is a great suggestion, though an ideal analysis ought to include regional and national crime rate data during this same period.  In other words, as AG Corbett suggests, these pending PA reforms might create a great natural experiment on the sentencing law-crime rate links. 

September 23, 2008 at 07:42 AM | Permalink


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I noted this quote in the article "supporters noted that all of the breaks envisioned in the new bills require the consent of local prosecutors and judges." If this is the case, how different is it really from the current system?

Posted by: dm | Sep 23, 2008 9:03:18 AM

The AP article indicates that that legislation had broad support and the programs were based on ones that had been applied successfully in other states. In general it appears that they are trying to reduce recidivism among the set of drug, property and public order offenders that have short sentences and are paroled as soon as they become eligible. If they provide adequate support for the treatment and reentry programs they should see a reduction in the prison admission rate.

I noticed that transportation of prisoners was one of the issues addressed. That is a very costly item because the risk of escape is largest when prisoners are being transported. To reduce the risk you need two guards if the distance transported is large or the facility they are taken to does not have a lockup. For a small county this can be a major expense.

Posted by: John Neff | Sep 23, 2008 10:26:22 AM

Sentencing reform accomplishes a number of goals:
- cuts down on costly prison overpopulation
- enables convicts to re-enter society with marketable skills
- properly punishes non-violent offenders

Posted by: JT | Sep 23, 2008 10:49:47 AM

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