Criminal Justice Reform in Pennsylvania

liberty bell

Liberty Bell, Philadelphia. Photo by wallyg via Flickr

An Online Workshop for Pennsylvania Journalists on the Outlook & Challenges of Criminal Justice Reform

Oct 8-9 2020

A John Jay Media Fellowship Program

Scroll Down for Webinar Recordings!

In June, 2020 Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale released a report containing 18 recommendations to the state’s justice system that he said could produce $100 million in annual savings to taxpayers.

In a state whose incarceration rate is higher than that of the U.S.—with roughly 725 per 100,000 people behind bars—the report underlined what most observers of Pennsylvania’s justice system have concluded.

“Clearly there is room for more reform to be done on all levels of the criminal justice system,” said DePasquale, whose recommendations ranged from rethinking Pennsylvania’s bail and probation systems to reworking sentencing guidelines on drug offenses.

“We also need to make sure to invest in efforts to give inmates the ability to successfully reenter society and avoid returning to prison.”

But will those reforms have any political traction?  At a time when Pennsylvania is a key battleground state during the 2020 elections, debates between those who want to reinvigorate the “tough on crime” approach and those who believe the system is inherently broken have intensified. For reporters covering these issues, getting to the heart of what’s at stake has never been more critical.

In an era when the nation is buffeted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and by a fierce debate over systemic racism, what kinds of reforms are achievable?

To explore this question, Center on Media, Crime and Justice at John Jay College has organized a “virtual fellowship” program for Pennsylvania journalists, legislators, educators, academics, advocates and justice officials. The workshop conducted in two three-hour webinars will take place on October 8 and October 9, 2020.The program is co-hosted by the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School. 

Confirmed conference speakers include state Attorney General Josh Shapiro; State. Senators Camera Bartoletta  and Anthony Williams; Jennifer Gibbs of the University of Pennsylvania Criminal Justice Research Center; Shelby Kim of Urban Rural Action; and Jasmine Heiss, campaign  director of Vera Institute of Justice’s “In Our Backyards” project.

The Pennsylvania workshop is the third in a series of on-the-record regional justice conferences, scheduled in 2019-2020, aimed at taking a deep dive into emerging reforms around the country, sponsored by the Charles Koch Foundation. The Foundation plays no role in choosing the participants or developing the program agenda.

Please continue to watch this space for research, material and stories emerging from the sessions.

Journalists interested in applying for the Fellowship, which includes a $250 stipend, should contact journalism coordinator Katti Gray at; or CMCJ Director Stephen Handelman at 

The final agenda is available here.

Download bios of speakers here.


Managing COVID-19 Behind Bars. Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project

In Our Backyards. Vera Institute of Justice





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