Thursday, December 19, 2019

Gov. Wolf signs criminal justice reform package

After three years of bipartisan compromise, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signed into law a pair of bills that aim to cut incarceration costs and reinvest savings in county probation offices, reported the Pennsylvania Capital-Star.
The bills, known collectively as Justice Reinvestment Initiative 2, are expected to reduce state prison populations by 600 inmates over the next five years, saving taxpayers an estimated $48 million in corrections costs. 
“These important pieces of legislation will cut red tape, reduce bureaucracy and result in savings of time and money,” Wolf said at a ceremony Wednesday, where he was joined by a bipartisan cadre of lawmakers from the House and Senate. “We will reinvest those savings into criminal justice programs that reduce recidivism, increase public safety, and better serve victims of crime.”
One bill sponsored by Sen. Tom Killion, R-Delaware, amends state sentencing guidelines to make it easier for people with addiction to enter State Intermediate Punishment. The diversionary sentencing program lets people convicted of non-violent crimes that were motivated by drug or alcohol addiction serve the majority of their sentences in treatment centers and in their home communities.
Diana Woodside, policy director for the Department of Corrections, told the committee that the program is “extremely underused” but has “extraordinary outcomes.”
Between 2005 and 2006, more than 25,000 inmates in Pennsylvania “appeared eligible” for state intermediate punishment, according to a Corrections department report. But only about a quarter of all them were referred for a program evaluation.
As a result, fewer than 5,600 inmates enrolled in the program from 2005 to 2016. Each participant saved Pennsylvania more than $33,000 in corrections costs. And its graduates had lower re-arrest rates than comparable offenders in the general prison population.
Offenders sentenced to intermediate punishment serve a maximum of 24 months, seven of which are spent in prison. They must also spend time in out-patient treatment and community therapeutic centers before being released into the community, where they’re monitored by Department of Corrections staff.
Under current policy, an inmate can only enter the program if they’re referred by a judge prior to sentencing and pass a Corrections evaluation. Once that evaluation in complete, they’re referred back to a judge for sentencing.
Killion’s proposal would streamline that process. It would require sentencing judges to evaluate all offenders to see if they meet the statutory requirements for the state intermediate punishment program.
Judges would have to note the offender’s eligibility status on their sentencing orders, and all who appear eligible will undergo an enrollment evaluation once they’re in a Corrections facility. Offenders who pass the evaluation will be admitted to the intermediate punishment program as they begin to serve out their sentence.
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