Senate Passes Greenleaf’s Justice Reinvestment Initiatives

Today, the Pennsylvania Senate unanimously approved State Senator Stewart J. Greenleaf’s (R,12) second round of Justice Reinvestment Initiatives (JRI2), which seeks to increase probation and parole supervision to reduce recidivism and expand the use of alternative sentencing programs.  Pennsylvania’s spending on corrections continues to increase at the expense of other public safety investments.  JRI2 will streamline sentencing options at the state level and reinvest the savings into county adult probation departments and victim services. 

Senator Greenleaf said, “Since the first round of JRI in 2012, we have reduced our inmate population by over 3,300 inmates, seen a sharp decline in the recidivism rate, and saved the state over $400 million.  While we have made great progress in recent years reversing the unintended consequences of the past, there are still great injustices built into the system which must be rectified.  This legislation seeks to break the cycle of incarceration that has left so many feeling trapped and hopeless.” 

JRI research in Pennsylvania confirms the recidivism-reduction impact of well-designed, state-supported community intervention.  Supporting county probation departments in the use of evidence-based practices leads to reductions in recidivism and, therefore, decreased prison and jail costs.  Supervision on probation in the community is far less costly than incarceration and leads to better outcomes in drug treatment and reducing recidivism.

This second phase of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI2) was led by the non-partisan Council of State Governments Justice Center (CSG).  CSG gathered a working group consisting of legislators, judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, probation and parole officials, corrections officials, police, and the Sentencing Commission.  The working group examined data from counties and all three branches of state government.  CSG drafted the three JRI2 bills based on policy conclusions drawn from that data.

JRI2 is made up of a three-bill package: 

SB 1071: Property and drug offenders make up a large portion of the state prison population.  Sometimes these offenders are given county jail sentences, but sometimes their maximum sentence is just long enough that they must go to state prison.  A very large percentage of these offenders are released from prison within an average of 5.5 months after reaching their minimum sentence. 

  • One major provision of SB 1071 provides for automatic parole without a hearing for these “short sentence” offenders once they reach their minimum sentence. In order to be eligible, the offender cannot have committed violent offenses, gun offenses, high-volume drug delivery offenses, certain sexual offenses, or misconduct while in prison.  By eliminating the period of months in which offenders stay in prison for parole hearings, the state will realize tens of millions of dollars in savings.
  • SB 1071 also streamlines placement of appropriate offenders in drug treatment in state prison. Successful completion of the program leads to an earlier release from prison. The bill establishes clearer guidelines for probation conditions to determine when violators should return to jail or prison.

SB 1070: According to a 2015 report from the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee, 86% of all probation and parole cases are under the jurisdiction of county probation departments.  As of December 31, 2013, county probation and parole offices supervised 233,345 offenders, compared to 39,036 offenders at the state level.  The probation and parole population (both state and county) account for 72% of the entire criminal offender population in Pennsylvania.  Meanwhile, many new responsibilities have been placed on county probation and parole offices with little or no additional funding.  Unlike juvenile probation departments, which receive guidance and IT support from the Juvenile Court Judges Commission, adult county probation departments have no central agency to organize them and implement uniform best practices.

  • SB 1070 reinvests savings generated by SB 1071 to create an Advisory Committee that will approve and finance the use of best practices in probation supervision statewide.
  • Rather than supervise every offender the same way, evidence-based practices will enable county probation departments to assess the unique risks and needs of each offender on probation.

SB 1072: This bill improves the flow of information to crime victims by prosecutors and police.  It also improves victim compensation for losses incurred during the crime. 

  • The bill changes the statute of limitations for making a victim compensation claim from 2 to 3 years and allows for a good faith extension.
  • The bill decreases the minimum loss for compensation from $100 to $50. It grants flexibility in the amount of emergency awards, adds eligibility for recipients of sexual violence and intimidation order, and adds crime scene clean-up for vehicles.

Contact:  Aaron Zappia (215) 657-7700