Governor Wolf Leads Call-to-Action for Criminal Justice Reform
April 12, 2018
Harrisburg, PA – Governor Tom Wolf today joined Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel, legislators, and advocacy groups in a call-to-action for criminal justice reforms that are long overdue and necessary to provide consistency and uniformity in the system.
“The debate about how we can fix our criminal justice system is complicated, and over time that debate has changed to reflect the modern realities and issues present in our system,” Governor Wolf said. “I believe that we can improve the criminal justice system, so that we can protect victims while also ending a cycle of incarceration that has left so many people feeling trapped, helpless and without an opportunity to return to society after they have been released.”
The governor outlined a package of eight reform initiatives, including:
- Justice Reinvestment Initiatives (JRI2), which seek to provide for fair sentencing, increase parole supervision and use of community-based programs, among other reforms.
- Bail and Pre-Trial Reforms to ensure that everyone has a right to a fair trial and that risk-assessment tools are consistent across the commonwealth.
- Post-Conviction Relief Act Expansion to reduce time sensitivity by increasing awareness of when rights expire so defendants can make an informed plea decision. Currently if a defendant pleads guilty, they are foreclosed from post-conviction relief; this needs to change so all defendants, regardless of plea, may attempt to prove their innocence.
- Review/Implement the Goals of the Sentencing Commission, which include adopting a standardized, single assessment tool model used from pre-trial until parole completion.
- Probation/Parole Revocation and Resentencing to create uniformity in probation revocation procedures and ensure a correlation between risk and probation lengths, resulting in better supervision.
- Comprehensive Clean Slate Legislation currently being considered in the General Assembly and the first step in establishing a much more comprehensive clean slate law in the commonwealth to provide an opportunity for persons convicted of greater offenses, including felony convictions, to reenter the community with success.
- Indigent Defense is a critical part of the system that can have a large impact on volume, cost, and human effects and is needed in Pennsylvania to ensure the independence and quality of counsel under the Sixth Amendment.
- Stepping Up Initiative, which was launched statewide in April 2017 and via summit in December 2017 along with a data-driven project by Dauphin County to examine its criminal justice system, with the goal of reducing the number of people who have serious mental illnesses in the county prison. The findings from that project will be made public at the end of this month and will be used to develop policy and programming recommendations.
The governor was joined by Senator Stewart J. Greenleaf in announcing these reforms. Sen. Greenleaf has been a champion of criminal justice reform and is the Senate Judiciary Committee chair.
“At one time, Pennsylvania had a 65 percent recidivism rate – that is a failed system,” said Sen. Greenleaf. “Since the landmark passage of criminal justice reform legislation in 2012, following our first round with the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, 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.”
“We need to do the work to make our criminal justice system fairer, more equitable and more focused on rehabilitation,” Governor Wolf said. “Since I became Governor, I have worked hard to reform our system so that it leads to better outcomes and saves taxpayer dollars – while also leading to less crime and fewer victims.
“Let’s continue to work towards building the criminal justice system we all want to see in Pennsylvania.”