PA Launches Justice Reinvestment Initiative

Written by Melanie G. Snyder on Sunday - February 12, 2012.

Harrisburg (WPMT-TV, York, January 27, 2012): Governor Tom Corbett today encouraged members of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, a newly-formed panel of judges, lawmakers, state cabinet members and other officials, as they begin studying ways to increase public safety in Pennsylvania and reduce spending on corrections. "The justice reinvestment working group is here to look at the numbers, the costs, thegavel-and-money projections and the system" Corbett told the gathering at the Governor's Residence this morning. "We look to you to come up with solutions to make our system better. I expect this initiative will help reduce further our crime rate, decrease recidivism and manage corrections spending more efficiently."

Led by Mark Zimmer, chairman of the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, and Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel, the group will meet regularly during the next several months to review data analysis, hear from local government representatives, prosecutors and public defenders, victim advocates, treatment providers and others, before crafting policy proposals. The Justice Reinvestment Initiative is a comprehensive, research-based approach that identifies factors driving the growth and costs in prison and jail populations. The data-driven model is designed to...

  • Develop and implement policy options to control and lower the costs of the state's corrections system;
  • Improve offender accountability;
  • Reinvest a portion of the savings into the justice system to further reduce corrections spending;
  • Reinvest a portion of the savings into the community to prevent crime;
  • Measure the impact of policy changes.

 

Contributing to the project is the Council of State Governments Justice Center in partnership with the Pew Center on the States and the U.S. Department of Justice. The CSG Justice Center, which has helped policymakers in 15 other states using a justice reinvestment approach, reported the following about Pennsylvania at today's meeting:

  • Between 2000 and 2010, the number of people admitted to prison climbed 46 percent, with much of this growth driven by increases in the number of people convicted of property and drug offenses serving relatively short minimum sentences.
  • Over this same period, the number of people in prison grew 40 percent, from 36,602 to 51,312, and annual Department of Corrections spending increased 76 percent, from $1.1 billion to $1.9 billion.
  • Despite significant state investments in resident programs for people on parole supervision, a 2011 study showed that recidivism has declined but remains high: nearly half of people (44 percent) released from prison were re-incarcerated within three years.

"Today's meeting identifies issues that need to be addressed, and I am confident this group will work hard to use the data and other information gathered to make legislative proposals which will try to strike the delicate balance between public safety and reducing costs through improved efficiencies and prison population reduction," Zimmer said.

"The scale of this effort is exactly what Pennsylvania needs to see the complete connections that take place from the time someone is arrested all the way through discharge to parole supervision," Wetzel said.

"With the extensive data analysis and stakeholder input in this process, policy makers from across the political spectrum will develop strategies that answer a fundamental question we all ask ourselves: What more can we be doing to increase safety in our communities while getting a better return on taxpayers' investment?" "This is an excellent example of officials working together, across systems, levels of government and parties toward the common goal of improving the safety of our state," Corbett said.

Mythbusters: Fact Sheets from National Reentry Resource Center

Written by Scott J. Sheely on Sunday - May 08, 2011.

Washington, DC: Recently, the National Reentry Resource Center offered a series of fact sheets called  Myth Busters to clarify existing federal policies that affect formerly incarcerated individuals and their families. Click here for a downloadable copy of the series of Myth Buster; click here for the latest Reentry in Brief.

Each year, more than 700,000 individuals are released from state and federal prisons. Another 9 million cycle through local jails. When reentry fails, the social and economic costs are high -- more crime, more victims, more family distress, and more pressure on already-strained state and municipal budgets. Because reentry intersects with health and housing, education and employment, family, faith, and community well-being, many federal agencies are focusing on initiatives for the reentry population.

Under the auspices of the Cabinet-level interagency Reentry Council, federal agencies are working together to enhance community safety and wellbeing, assist those returning from prison and jail in becoming productive citizens, and save taxpayer dollars by lowering the direct and collateral costs of incarceration. For more information about the Reentry Council, click here

Key Legislative Changes in Sentencing Policy

Written by Scott J. Sheely on Sunday - March 13, 2011.

New York:  Recently, the Center on Sentencing and Corrections released a report entitled "Criminal Justice Trends: Key Legislative Changes in Sentencing Policy, 2001-2010".  This report reviews state sentencing policy from 2001 through 2010. The beginning and end of this period coincided with economic recessions and spikes in criminal justice reform legislation.  For a downloadable copy of the  report, click here.

The past decade marks a time of significant change in how states approach their criminal sentencing policies. The "tough on crime" political mantra that drove sentencing legislation 30 years ago has transformed into talk of being "smart on crime," with increasing reliance on research and data to drive and substantiate policy decisions. This willingness to adopt less punitive, more rational sentencing policies is driven, in part, by budget concerns that have emerged and remained prominent in recent years.

During this roughly 10-year period, three distinct themes in state sentencing legislation emerge:

  • States redefined and reclassified criminal offenses, often resulting in a reduction in offense severity and sentence length.
  • States strengthened alternatives to incarceration, with an emphasis on increasing investment in substance use treatment, specialty courts, and community supervision.
  • States took steps to reduce prison terms, from rolling back mandatory minimum sentences to enhancing mechanisms designed to accelerate sentence completion.

Under these overarching themes, the report identifies and discusses more than 55 pieces of state legislation that chronicle the decade's most important sentencing reform policies.

National Atlas of Sentencing and Corrections Now Available

Written by Scott J. Sheely on Saturday - October 02, 2010.

Washington: Recently, the Justice Mapping Center launched the National Atlas of Sentencing and Corrections-an online tool that shows a neighborhood-level view of where prison inmates, probationers, and parolees are from and where corrections spending is highest.  Click hereto connect with the Atlas which is online. The atlas serves as an invaluable tool for policymakers, the media, researchers, and members of the public looking for neighborhood-specific criminal justice data. Drilling down to single ZIP codes, users can learn the number of people in prison, the number released from prison each year, the number on probation or parole, what share of the state's total population this data represent, and the total dollar amount spent on corrections.

Reentry program planners will find the atlas useful in identifying the target population for their reentry initiatives. Also, Second Chance Act grantees can use the information to focus supervision and treatment resources on a specific geographic area.  The atlas highlights the concentration of incarceration rates in disadvantaged communities across the country. Corrections data are supplemented by data regarding income level, employment status, the number of single-parent households, and racial demographics for each of the thousands of jurisdictions spotlighted.

Specific findings include the following:

  • In New York City, neighborhoods that are home to 18 percent of the city's adult population account for more than 50 percent of prison admissions each year.
  • In Pennsylvania, taxpayers will spend more than $40 million to imprison residents of neighborhoods in a single ZIP code in Philadelphia, where 38 percent of households have incomes under $25,000.
  • In Austin, Texas, although neighborhoods in three of the city's forty-one ZIP codes are home to only 3.5 percent of the city's adult population, they grapple with more than 17 percent of people returning from prison each year.

Corrections departments from twenty-two states provided data to populate the atlas, which represents more than two years of research and planning. The project was supported by the Ford Foundation, the Pew Charitable Trusts, and the Open Society Institute.

NH Enacts Law to Reduce Recidivism

Written by Scott J. Sheely on Sunday - August 15, 2010.

Concord, NH:  On June 30, 2010, New Hampshire Governor John Lynch, surrounded by a bipartisan group of state leaders representing all three branches of government, signed landmark criminal justice legislation (Senate Bill 500) into law that will increase public safety by lowering the state’s recidivism rate and, as a result, reduce both the prison population and taxpayer spending on corrections.  For a downloadable summary of the legislations and its implications, click here.

The state's prison population had increased 31 percent over the last ten years, despite New Hampshire's low and stable crime rate. The growth was caused by a 50 percent increase in the number of people released from prison each year who were later returned for violations or new criminal activity. In 2009, three of every five people entering prison had violated the conditions of their probation or parole supervision.

Furthermore, annual studies of recidivism by the New Hampshire Department of Corrections found that the percent of individuals released from prison who are returned within three years had increased from 40 percent in 2003 to 51 percent in 2005. The new law is projected to reduce the number of people who fail on probation and parole and are revoked to prison, respectively, by 20 percent and 40 percent. The recidivism reduction will gradually decrease the prison population over the next four years by 18 percent, resulting in between $7 million and $10 million in correctional cost savings.

The law will accomplish the following:

  • Focus supervision on high-risk offenders by reducing the length of supervision for low-risk offenders
  • Enable probation officers to employ short, swift jail sanctions for minor probation violations, when permitted, by judges at sentencing.
  • Establish a seven-day residential intermediate sanction for minor parole violators and a designated ninety-day parole revocation facility to re-engage parole violators in treatment and comply with supervision.
  • Ensure that everyone leaving prison receives at least nine months of supervision.
  • Require nonviolent offenders to serve no more than 120 percent of their minimum sentence.