The General Assembly in June passed important reforms to Pennsylvania's prison system that address the problem of repeat offenders, improve and strengthen probation and parole services, and promote the responsible use of alternative sentencing techniques in appropriate cases.
Many of the prison reforms were recommended by the interbranch, bipartisan Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) Working Group, which was convened by Gov. Tom Corbett, Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald Castille and legislative leaders. The JRI working group, which received assistance from the Council of State Governments, the Pew Center on the States and the U.S. Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Assistance, produced a solid corrections reform package that could save taxpayers more than $250 million over the next five years.
State lawmakers now have the opportunity to finish the job by enacting companion legislation to reinvest a small portion of the savings into further strategies to deter crime and reduce prison recidivism.
House Bill 135 offers competitive grants for local police departments for data-driven policing strategies, professional accreditation and officer training. It also provides financial support to counties that are willing to jail offenders with short minimum sentences in less expensive county and community corrections facilities. Finally, House Bill 135 provides needed resources to improve services to crime victims.
The reforms passed this summer and the reinvestment provisions contained in House Bill 135 will both benefit Pennsylvania taxpayers and improve public safety. This reform package demonstrates how collaboration among criminal justice disciplines and across partisan lines can result in smart public policy in which "tough on crime" and "smart on crime" can co-exist.
—State Rep. Glen Grell, R-Hampden Township