As legislators expand the scope of criminalized behavior in Pennsylvania, police are given more power to stop and arrest people for an ever-widening variety of behaviors. Duplicative criminal offenses give prosecutors greater power to coerce guilty pleas. Harsher penalties and sentencing enhancements increase sentences, keeping people behind bars for longer.
This update to the initial More Law Less Justice Report by the ACLU analyzes legislation passed during the 2019-2020 session. During the two-year session, members of the General Assembly introduced more than 280 bills to expand criminal offenses and punishments, passing 15 new offenses and suboffenses, with 26 new penalties — all with bipartisan support. This update also highlights legislators’ particular affinity for generating unnecessary aggravated assault offenses and offenses related to gendered and sexual violence without actually providing meaningful solutions to harm.
According to the Pennsylvania Capital-Journal, those actions
"created more opportunities for police and prosecutors to arrest,
fine, and incarcerate people — all in the midst of a deadly pandemic and
recession," the report, which brands the General Assembly a "bipartisan
criminal offense factory," concludes.
Those votes also came "at a time when widespread protests against racist policing and police violence have underscored the need to reduce contact between police and communities and dramatically scale back our current system of mass incarceration," the report reads. "Ending Pennsylvania’s public policy of mass incarceration begins with the Legislature."
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