Within the last couple of years, Pennsylvania has made great strides in reforming its criminal justice system after decades of taking a “tough-on-crime” approach to criminal legislation. But despite the state's valiant efforts to reverse these trends, its prison system is still clogged with an alarming number of offenders - many of whom have been convicted of non-violent crimes.
A report from state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale recently revealed that Pennsylvania has the highest incarceration rate in the northeastern United States, locking up residents at higher rates than countries like Turkey, Iran, and Russia. The finding has been made just weeks after the implementation of Pennsylvania's “Clean Slate” law, intended to help individuals convicted of minor, non-violent criminal offenses start anew given they don't re-offend.
DePasquale plans to launch an investigation that would shed light on the root of the problem, and ultimately help him come up with recommendations to ensure that the people in prison belong there.
“We need to build on the success of Pennsylvania's recently enacted Clean Slate law and focus on other ways in which we can make our justice system more effective and fair,” DePasquale said. “Not only is it the right thing to do from a fiscal standpoint, it's also the socially responsible way forward.”
DePasquale isn't the first official to advocate for criminal justice reform in the state's correctional system. Prominent nonprofit, the Commonwealth Foundation, and other organizations like it have expressed the same sentiment for years. But now that the numbers are in, many are grappling with just how big a problem this is for the state and undeserving prison offenders. The Commonwealth Foundation and others encourage state lawmakers to prioritize the bipartisan reforms they propose.
The good news is that the state's recent efforts have been pretty effective. Overall, the prison population dropped by more than 1,000 in 2018. But the Auditor General claims that much more needs to be done to reduce prison costs and ease the burden on taxpayers. He anticipates that his report will be ready for release sometime in the fall.
Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Attorney
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