PA Sentence Reforms Would Keep Low-Level Offenders Out of Prisons


A corrections overhaul plan backed by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett now being considered by the state legislature aims to curb future spending in part by more precisely defining which inmates are sent to halfway houses and which are sent to prisons, says the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. State spending on corrections has grown dramatically in recent decades, and state officials have spent worked with the Council of State Governments to identify ways to improve the system’s efficiency and effectiveness.

The council says programs required of state prison inmates are often too lengthy for people with short minimum sentences to be considered for parole in a timely manner. This prolongs the expense of housing them and cuts into the time they can be supervised by a parole officer after their release. Under the plan, people convicted of low-level misdemeanors, such as drunken driving and receiving stolen property, would be eligible only for sanctions other than state prison, such as incarceration at the county level or probation. Counties would be encouraged through state funding to expand the capacity in their jails for inmates with minimum sentences shorter than one year. Currently, one-third of inmates arrive in prison with less than a year remaining in their minimum sentence, and they stay an average of 200 days beyond that date. “The prisons just aren’t typically designed for offenders with shorter sentences,” said Marshall Clement of the council’s Justice Center.

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