Justice Reinvestment Initiative Receives Public Safety Proposals
HARRISBURG – Pennsylvania’s communities can be safer and its criminal justice system better under a proposed plan that could save taxpayers approximately $351 million while reinvesting nearly $88 million in public safety over a five-year period.
Results of a five-month analysis, as well as key policy suggestions for improving the state’s criminal justice system, were presented today to the Justice Reinvestment Initiative work group. The bipartisan group, composed of judges, lawmakers, state cabinet members and other state and local leaders, met today at the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency inHarrisburg.
Gov. Tom Corbett thanked the group for its efforts as it began reviewing possible solutions for a better criminal justice system.
“Our system must not only assure justice for victims and protection for society, it must do so efficiently. The best measure of justice is not only what it accomplishes, but how effectively it does so,” Corbett said.
The plan identified $9.5 million in savings during the first year and calls for a reinvestment of $8.5 million to strengthen law enforcement, probation, parole, and victim services. The savings increase dramatically as efficiencies are implemented in the system, allowing the state to reinvest tens of millions in proven public safety methods.
“We look forward to sending these policies to the General Assembly and working with them to get system-changing legislation passed with this budget,” Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said.
Led by Wetzel and Mark Zimmer, chairman of the PCCD, the group has been meeting regularly to hear from local government representatives, prosecutors and public defenders, victim advocates, treatment providers and others.
“The members of the work group have all recognized the need for reform and have focused their attention on the future of the entire criminal justice system, its costs in terms of dollars and human lives, and public safety,” Zimmer said. “Moving forward with the policy proposals will be just as challenging but ultimately rewarding if implemented wisely.”
The Council of State Governments Justice Center, which has helped policymakers in 15 other states using a justice reinvestment approach, conducted the research in partnership with the Pew Center on the States and the U.S. Department of Justice.
The goal is to reinvest savings back into the community to strengthen law enforcement as well as to deter and reduce crime and recidivism.
The results of the study targeted four main areas for improvement in Pennsylvania:
- Help law enforcement deter crime by providing funding for training and equipment, as well as financing for problem-oriented policing and partnerships with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. In addition, the plan calls for support of statewide and community-based victim services.
- Expand local resources to reduce recidivism by increasing funds to counties that maximize probation and other options besides state prison. Such alternative sentences could include electronic monitoring, day reporting, intensive supervision and treatment, in addition to several months in county jails versus state prison. Currently, incarcerating offenders with short minimum sentences costs the state $100 million.
- Improve efficiencies in the parole process, which would generate savings by reducing the state prison population. The analysis found that one-third of the people sentenced to Pennsylvania’s state prisons remain incarcerated an average of 200 days beyond their minimum sentence date in order to complete programming.
For example, as of January 2012, a total of 2,339 individuals who had been approved for parole remained in prison. Most remained in prison because they had incomplete post-release housing plans, while others had yet to pay into the crime victims’ fund. The annual cost of keeping this group of people in prison is $77 million.
- Increase accountability and improve the use of community correction centers, for people who are either transitioning from prison to the community, or for those who fail to comply with the conditions of parole. Only 15 percent of the bed space at community corrections centers is used by parole violators. Consequently, the cost of sanctioning most parole violators is shifted to prison, which cost the state $78 million in 2011.
After reviewing today’s proposals, the work group will decide which suggestions to adopt and then take the necessary steps to change policy or enact legislation.
For more information, visit www.pccd.state.pa.us and select Justice Reinvestment Initiative from the left menu bar.