The number of people incarcerated in state prison dropped to 47,370 inmates at the end of 2018 – a 1,068 decline from the prior year when there were 48,438 people behind bars in the state Department of Corrections.
The state’s inmate population is down from 51,512 five years ago, corrections data show.
The number of people behind bars has dropped each year Gov. Tom Wolf has been in office.
“We need to focus on the work to make our criminal justice system fairer, more equitable and more focused on rehabilitation,” Wolf said in a statement calling for action on criminal justice reform earlier this month. “I am committed to continuing this important work in my second term,” he said.
Wolf has made criminal justice reform a signature issue. Wolf joined legal groups in rolling out a new program intended to help people with old convictions to get their records sealed to make it easier to get to jobs or rent property.
He said it’s just one step and called on the General Assembly to act on additional reforms.
That includes recommendations from the state’s Justice Reinvestment Initiative aimed at addressing the high cost of incarceration, strengthening county probation programs and fixing sentencing guidelines.
He also called for reforming the post-trial criminal justice system to focus on rehabilitation and preparing inmates to reenter society to reduce the risk of recidivism.
The conservative think tank, the Commonwealth Foundation, on Thursday said that the drop began two years before Wolf took office in 2014.
The state’s first version of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative was signed into law in 2012 by Republican Gov. Tom Corbett.
The drop last year was the biggest yet, according to the Commonwealth Foundation.
“This historic reduction in our prison population should be celebrated,” said Nathan Benefield, vice president and COO for the Commonwealth Foundation. “Seven years ago, Pennsylvania enacted a bipartisan corrections reform package that has proven to be an unquestionable success,” said Nathan Benefield, vice president and COO for the Commonwealth Foundation. “We are locking up fewer people while crime rates continue to decline. t’s time for lawmakers to build on this momentum and advance reforms that improve sentencing and parole.”
Like Wolf, Benefield called on the General Assembly to act on the new Justice Reinvestment Initiative reforms.
The state Senate last April unanimously approved the second round of Justice Reinvestment Initiative reforms. The bills didn’t move in the state House but state Rep. Jim Cox, R-Berks County, has already announced plans to introduce legislation including those reforms in the new legislative session.
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