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April 12, 2010

"Non-violent offenders clogging state prisons"

The title of this post is the headline of this commentary in a local Pennsylvania newspaper.  Here is how it starts:

Pennsylvania's prison system continues to be impacted by costly overcrowding, while 20 other states are reducing their inmate populations.

Pennsylvania currently has 51,000 inmates in a system designed to accommodate 43,000.  To ease the overcrowding, Pennsylvania has begun sending 2,000 inmates to prisons in Virginia and Michigan at a cost of about $42 million a year.  At the same time, the commonwealth is planning to build four new prisons estimated to cost $800 million.

In contrast, New York's inmate population has decreased by 13 percent.  New York officials are considering closing one or more prisons.  This is attributed to alternative sentencing, intensive drug treatment, and mental health programs.

Michigan has reduced its inmate population by 8 percent.  It has closed eight prisons and has 3,260 fewer inmates than it had three years ago.  This is attributed to drug and alcohol counseling, and job training, all outside the prison.

What makes Pennsylvania so different from New York and Michigan?  In the 1980s and 1990s, tough-on-crime laws such as mandatory minimum sentences were designed to remove drug dealers and violent felons from society.  As it has turned out, however, Pennsylvania now has the second-longest sentences for non-violent crimes. Yet the major restorative benefit from incarceration occurs in the first year.

Mandatory minimums have stripped discretion from judges.  The majority of Common Pleas judges surveyed a few years ago argued that mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent crimes were not an effective deterrent.  In October 2007 the Pennsylvania House formed a committee of legislators, judges, district attorneys, and public defenders to study mandatory minimum sentencing structures.  The findings (available at Web site http://pcs.la.psu.edu) uncovered a number of "unintended consequences."

The Department of Corrections has stated that Pennsylvania's state prisons are exploding with non-violent offenders, which include low-level drug users, drunk drivers, parole violators and shoplifters.  The time for studies has ended.  The time for reform is now.

April 12, 2010 at 03:17 PM | Permalink


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This is truly sad. Non-violent crimes should NOT be treated as violent crimes, which physically harm other's. Kudos to New York and Michigan. It was a smart move to throw out alternative sentencing, counseling inside the bargain's, rather then long sentences for non-violent crimes.

I hope Pennsylvania learn's it's lesson's, and NY and MI, help's them be a role model. Maybe Penn, can also even save some cash on the way.

Posted by: N/A | Apr 12, 2010 3:36:57 PM

The state should release non-violent inmates.My husband is currently serving a sentence of 16 months to 3 years for a DUI. He didn't hurt no one nor was he in an accident. He quit drinking for over a year and slipped up one night and was stopped.Before sentencing he was attending AA classes on his own with other programs. He was on the braclet for 6 months without a hit before sentencing and the judge did not take any of his efforts into consideration.He sat in a cell for almost a year with nothing to do but read.He was getting more help on the outside,on his own to make sure he wouldn't slip up again. To me,putting non-violent people in jail is just a money making bussiness.

Posted by: JOYCE | Apr 25, 2010 10:38:11 AM

Loved one who works in healthcare as a mid level provider for the past 23 plus years My BF is currently serving 1 to 4 years in state for driving without a license, that is the primary charge , however he blew a .05 while home back in June of 09 while on probation during one their "pop" visit. He realizes that this was a VOP, and this was his 4th dui in 5 years. I am validating this, however drug court was not offered to him, and was offered a program in our city for a program which is what he needs, and not prison. I believe this sentence is harsh and inappropiate. Currently he sits in county just waiting to go to state, as they claim they "lost" his paperwork. All this time is going by , and he could have been in a program, where at least the mind set is proactive to help people. He has a support system as well, and prior to court he worn an ankle monitor. Devastated

Posted by: Kat | May 24, 2010 6:13:48 AM

pa laws sucks ass

Posted by: jw | Jun 27, 2010 10:36:07 AM

IT SO sad that non-violent offenders go to prison and get more time then a person thats done rape or murdered sombody..i have a cousin that in prison right now for 15 years for drugs...im not saying that selling drugs is right but its nothing that i wouldnt do to feed my kids..i mean they dont have jobs r if they have jobs d first question they asked is have you ever been convited of a felony which most of them have so whats left for them to do...my cousin had not been in trouble in 11 years a good father to his kids n messed up n got 15years and the hardest part is him watching his kid grow up without him so not only are we punishing him but also the kids too who has nothing to do with whats going on so thats just 5 more kids growing up without there father...i just wish it was a better way to punish non-violent offerders.. we could all judge down on this earth n think we are getting away with what we are doing to these men really Black Men but there is a god that every one of us must face on judgement day....

Posted by: Tiffany wilson | Jul 23, 2012 5:48:50 PM

somebody, anybody with any good left in them please look into the justice system in covington la (st tammany parish or should i say St Slammany Parish)they are giving our black men 20 and 30 years for drugs More time then rapest n murders...something has to b done about this

Posted by: Tiffany wilson | Jul 23, 2012 6:01:39 PM

Recently a family member was convicted of an embezzlement charge of more than 100k dollars in N.C.This was her first offense of any crime and she is 43 yrs. old with a daughter just starting high school and an elderly mother that depends on her care.Because of the structured sentencing act in N.C. She was sentenced to the minimum Class C offense of 44 months with no chance of parole.There are currently twice as many non violent offenders in N.C. prisons as violent ones.These "offenders" are recieving no help at rehabilitation and spending time sitting in prison doing nothing while family members in their need are being ignored.The structured sentencing act needs to be "Restructured" to put more authority back in the judges hands to determine the extent of threat a non violent offender poses and be able to take other factors into consideration when imposing sentence other than just reading a mandatory sentence from a page in a book.Why? after all do we call them judges?

Posted by: R.G. Rhodes | Feb 5, 2014 4:46:06 AM

someone please look into St. Tammany Parish Court, they are giving non-violent offenders more time than violent offenders. This jail has become nothing but a money making venue.

Posted by: nancy | Jul 23, 2014 8:20:24 AM

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