Some Pennsylvania legislators want to enact new alternative sentences for non-violent convicts, saying they would decrease overcrowded state prisons and lighten the financial burden on the state, reports the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Pennsylvania is still in the stone ages when you talk about prison reform,” said Rep. Kenyatta Johnson, a Philadelphia Democrat. Reforms are backed by a bipartisan group of lawmakers and by the state corrections department.
They include having non-violent prisoners who are facing short, minimum sentences serve their time at community-based corrections centers instead of a state prison. Alternative incarceration programs would also be sought for lesser offenses, such as drug-related crimes and technical parole violations. Nearly half of the state’s prisoners are non-violent offenders, said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Stewart Greenleaf, a Republican. He said the state prison population has skyrocketed from about 8,000 in 1980 to more than 51,000 now. The state’s Department of Corrections budget is now approaching $2 billion a year, more than 55 times what it was nearly 40 years ago.