Gov. Wolf Signs Bipartisan Criminal Justice Reinvestment Initiative Bills

December 18, 2019

Governor Tom Wolf, surrounded by legislators and criminal justice advocates, today signed two Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI 2) bills, hailing them as yet another successful bipartisan effort to make the state’s justice system fairer while keeping communities safe.

“I am here today to recognize the passage of the second part of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, or “JRI 2,” Gov. Wolf said. “These important pieces of legislation will cut red tape, reducing bureaucracy will result in savings of time and money, and we will reinvest those savings into criminal justice programs that reduce recidivism, increase public safety, and better serve victims of crime.”

JRI 2 includes two bills – Senate Bills 500, sponsored by Sen. Lisa Baker, and 501, sponsored by Sen. Tom Killion – addressing the high cost of incarceration in the state; strengthening support for county probation programs and fixing inadequate sentencing guidelines; and reforming the post-trial criminal justice system to ensure work towards rehabilitation of individuals and preparation to reenter society, rather than creating further risks for recidivism.

“This set of measures follows other important legislation we have approved,” Sen. Lisa Baker said. “Our course on correctional law is toward smarter sentencing, reduced recidivism, and cost containment.”
“Emphasizing drug treatment and punishments other than incarceration for those convicted of non-violent crimes is the right thing to do for taxpayers, our communities, and the offenders themselves,” said Sen. Tom Killion. “Breaking the cycle of addiction by streamlining the placement of offenders in drug treatment will make our criminal justice system more efficient, improve public safety and reduce the burden we ask taxpayers to bear.”

“With several components of JRI 2 now on their way to the governor’s desk, we’ve shown that the General Assembly can work across party lines to pass meaningful criminal justice reform,” Rep. Joanna McClinton said. “With much compromise, this package of bills will generate significant savings for the Department of Corrections and lead to much-needed probation and parole reform in the commonwealth by creating a County Adult Probation and Parole Advisory committee.”

“I am delighted that Pennsylvania will join the ranks of other states which are identifying a smarter way to address criminal justice,” Rep. Paul Schemel said. “The reforms built into these bills have proven successful in other states at reducing both recidivism and cost. This is truly a win-win, which enjoyed broad by-partisan support. Thank you to the leadership of the House, Senate and Governor’s office for this substantial reform.”

The original JRI 2 package also included Senate Bill 502, the Crime Victims Bill, sponsored by Sen. Camera Bartolotta and supported by the governor, which is awaiting consideration in the House. However, the two bills passed contain the bulk of the reforms touted as reinvestment initiatives.

In 2016, Pennsylvania leaders established the Justice Reinvestment Working Group, a bipartisan, interbranch group of state policymakers and criminal justice system stakeholders chaired by Attorney General Josh Shapiro and charged with analyzing the state’s justice system and developing recommendations to help manage the continued growth in the state’s corrections budget and to reinvest savings in strategies that can reduce recidivism, increase public safety and better serve victims of crime.

“I am pleased that much of the work I led, along with our bipartisan collation when I was the Chairman of the PA Commission on Crime and Delinquency, is reflected in today’s vote and these bills being signed into law by Gov. Wolf,” said Attorney General Shapiro. “While there is still a massive amount of work to be done on criminal justice reform in our Commonwealth, today is an important step forward to more efficiently use taxpayer resources, improve public safety and make our system more fair.”

The working group goals are reflected in the savings estimated for JRI 2 as passed today. Efficiencies in expediting presumptive parole and simplifying the process for entry into the state’s drug treatment program, which has impressive outcomes for enrollees, results in the funds necessary to reinvest into county probation, to victims, and to sentencing commissions. Total savings are estimated at $45 million.

The passage of JRI 2 traveled a path started in the 2017-18 legislative session when then-Sen. Stewart Greenleaf introduced a package of bills to address the criminal justice system challenges based on data from The Council of State Governments’ Justice Center and the recommendations of the working group.

Those bills passed the Senate in April 2018 and were referred to the House Judiciary committee where no further action was taken until this session. The original JRI bills were reintroduced in March as Senate bills 500, 501 and 502 and passed the Senate in March. They were referred to the House Judiciary Committee in June.

The list of criminal justice reforms in Pennsylvania is long and revolutionary:

  • Announced a Fair-Chance hiring policy for state agencies that removes the criminal conviction question, otherwise known as “banning the box,” from non-civil service employment applications for agencies under the governor’s jurisdiction.
  • Signed the “Clean Slate” bill, the first of its kind in the nation, to help those who have committed low-level offenses and have paid their penalty get back on the path to a blemish-free record, removing potential roadblocks to jobs, housing, health care, and education.
  • Signed Act 95 of 2018, eliminating driver’s license suspensions for non-driving infractions.
  • Signed Act 146 of 2018, extending the time a convicted individual has to file a post-conviction relief action to one year, from what was 60 days under current law.
  • Signed Act 147 of 2018, updating Pennsylvania’s DNA testing law to reflect significant advances in technology and the lessons learned by criminal justice professionals since 2002. The legislation removes the supervision requirement that only people serving a sentence can apply for DNA testing.
  • Signed Act 148 of 2018, a victim protection bill regarding housing options and emergency transfers.

“The passage of JRI 2 has been a long process that began back in 2016 with the Justice Reinvestment Working Group,” Gov. Wolf said. “I am proud that we are bringing this across the finish line today. We have passed yet another criminal justice reform that will improve the lives of all Pennsylvanians.”

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