Saturday, January 29, 2011

PA Auditor General Calls for Sentencing Reform

Pennsylvania Auditor General Jack Wagner issued a special report outlining the 500 percent growth in Pennsylvania's prison population from 8,243 in 1980 to 51,487 in 2010. According to a 2009 Pew Center for the States report,Pennsylvania had the highest number of new inmates -- 2,122 -- of any state in the nation.

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported, the cost per inmate nearly tripled from $11,477 in 1980 to $32,059 in 2009. The overall cost to taxpayers increased during the past 10 years from $1.17 billion to $1.6 billion, a 37 percent increase, Wagner said.

As the state faces a $4 billion to $5 billion budget deficit, it's imperative that lawmakers consider reductions in Department of Corrections spending, which historically has been sacrosanct, Wagner said.

Wagner, a Democratic, is endorsing criminal justice reform legislation proposed by Senator Stewart Greenleaf, a Republican. "The bill, Senate Bill 100, goes to the heart of the problem," Wagner told the Tribune-Review. The bill that would make it easier to send non-violent offenders to alternative-sentencing programs.

Last fall, Governor Edward G. Rendell signed into law a prison reform bill. In part, Act 95of 2010, formerly known as Senate Bill 1161, directs the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing to develop a risk assessment instrument for use by judges in sentencing criminal offenders. The law was sponsored by state Senator Stewart J. Greenleaf, and was recently touted by the GOP House Caucus as being able to identify criminals who are "at a lower risk to reoffend and who may be recommended for alternative sentencing programs instead of additional prison time, such as county and state intermediate punishment programs."

Last November, I wrote about the reform package for the Pennsylvania Law Weekly. The column can be found at,

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