- Pennsylvania’s JRI legislation standardizes sentencing decisions for probation and parole revocations, expands in-prison programming, diverts low-level misdemeanants from prison, eliminates prerelease of parolees, revises parole board policies, and reduces parole processing delays.
- Pennsylvania’s JRI legislation was projected to reduce the prison population by 1,200 inmates by 2018, and result in expected savings of $139 million from reduced prison operating costs.
- Pennsylvania restructured its $100 million community corrections system, previously a network of residential programs exclusively for parolees, to require contract providers to reduce recidivism through performance-based contracts for a continuum of services. Between July 2014 and June 2015, recidivism for these centers dropped by 11.3 percentage points.
- Pennsylvania plans to reinvest a total of $3.99 million by FY 2015–2016 to strengthen victims’ services, improve the use of risk assessment tools, support data-driven crime prevention efforts, and build capacity within local probation departments.
Between 2007 and 2011, Pennsylvania’s prison population grew by more than 5,600 inmates,3 even as crime rates remained stable or declined. In 2011 criminal justice spending had increased by 77 percent since 2001; the state had a projected $4.5 billion deficit for FY 2012–13; and the prisons were filled beyond capacity. Although the state had plans to create new prison beds, Pennsylvania leaders knew that was only a stopgap measure.4
Pennsylvania had attempted to enact comprehensive and permanent solutions to these long-standing problems in previous reform efforts. In 2007, the state began to work with the CSG Justice Center and the Pew Charitable Trusts to analyze criminal justice data and devise methods to reduce corrections population and cost drivers. The findings informed a set of policy options that culminated in a 2008 legislative package known as the Prison Reform Package, which was expanded in 2010. However, these legislative reforms did not have the intended effects; key legislative provisions were not completely implemented, few offenders were diverted from prison, and the populations of state and county jails continued to swell.5
With the leadership of a newly elected governor, the support of a recently appointed Department of Corrections (DOC) secretary, and the momentum for change, the time was ripe in 2011 for a new approach to criminal justice reform. In January 2011, then Governor Tom Corbett submitted a request on behalf of the state to join JRI. Through JRI, the state hoped to find strategies to curb the projected prison population growth and spending, identify ways to divert offenders to community-based sanctions, and reduce recidivism while maintaining public safety.6
The CSG Justice Center began its technical assistance (TA) work in the spring of 2011. The TA provision followed a timeline set by the governor at a JRI kick-off event at the governor’s mansion in January 2012; he requested that his office be provided with a set of JRI policy options in six months—a timeline that would allow a potential JRI bill to be included in that year’s legislative budget cycle.7
The JRI working group met for the first time in January 2012 and then each month for the next four months. The working group was organized by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD)—a state agency devoted to improving the criminal justice system in the state—and included representatives from the governor’s office, cabinet agencies, probation and parole, Democratic and Republican lawmakers’ offices, county officials, the courts, the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing, and other key agencies.8
In advance of these meetings, the CSG Justice Center met with JRI working group stakeholders to discuss and correct any errors in data findings. In addition, the CSG Justice Center convened focus group meetings with non-JRI working group stakeholders—including victims’ service providers and advocate groups, parole agents, and chiefs of police—to receive additional input.9
By May 2012, the working group had identified population and cost drivers and constructed a set of policy recommendations to address them. The data showed that counties were particularly overburdened by overcrowded jails and funding cuts, that offenders with minimum sentences of up to one year were being sent to prison but not completing prison-based programming, that parole inefficiencies were delaying parole granting and processing, that community corrections facilities were not targeting those who stood to benefit the most from treatment, and that victims were not being provided with adequate services.10
The data analysis guided a set of policy options that would help reduce Pennsylvania’s prison population: assist law enforcement by providing funding for data-driven crime prevention efforts, strengthen victims’ services, offer counties financial support to expand community-based sanctions and treatment for offenders of different risk levels, identify and reduce inefficiencies in the parole process, eliminate the prerelease program for offenders not yet approved for parole, and use community-based facilities to hold and treat high risk offenders transitioning to parole and parolees who commit technical violations.11
Many of the working group’s policy recommendations were codified into law in two legislative vehicles: Senate Bill (SB) 100 and House Bill (HB) 135. SB 100 included the substantive JRI provisions, whereas HB 135 outlined a funding framework to direct the reinvestment of JRI savings. SB 100, which was signed into law in July 2012, created new sentencing guidelines for probation and parole revocations, expanded existing programs designed to reduce recidivism, mandated that offenders convicted for the lowest level misdemeanor offenses not serve their sentences in prison, eliminated the prerelease program, revised parole board policies regarding sanctions for parole violators, and increased the use of technology to reduce processing delays, among other provisions.12
Had Pennsylvania’s JRI legislation included all of the policies proposed by the working group, the state was expected to see its prison population reduced to 48,744 inmates by 2016.13 The state’s JRI legislation did not include all of the proposed policies, so the impact projections were revised accordingly. The policies included in SB 100 were expected to reduce the prison population by 1,200 inmates between 2013 and 2018.14
State officials are currently implementing the provisions of Pennsylvania’s JRI framework. They started by improving the collaboration between DOC and the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole (PBPP) to improve reentry and community corrections and reduce the high parolee failure rate in Pennsylvania. These two agencies restructured Pennsylvania’s community corrections system, which was a network of private residential programs exclusively for parolees. Despite approximately $100 million of state funding for these residential programs, a 2013 DOC study concluded that parolees who transitioned through a community corrections center had higher recidivism rates than parolees who returned directly home.15 In 2013, DOC rebid its contracts with these residential community corrections centers, requiring them to reduce recidivism or risk losing their contract.16 Between July 2014 and June 2015, recidivism for these centers dropped by 11.3 percentage points.
DOC has also issued bids for nonresidential services designed to fill gaps in community-based risk-reduction programs, including cognitive behavioral interventions, outpatient and intensive outpatient substance abuse treatment, sex offender treatment and monitoring, housing support, and employment readiness assistance, among others. Pennsylvania now provides a range of community corrections services specifically focused on reducing recidivism and tied into PBPP’s graduated responses to address parolee violation behavior.17
PBPP and DOC have continued to refine the violations sanctions grid, an administrative guide which provides a continuum of options for parole officers to use in response to noncompliance with parole supervision conditions. Based on recommendations from a high-level working group, Pennsylvania agreed upon a set of new administrative policies in order to strengthen the state’s response to technical violations of parole. One of the new policies expanded the use of Parole Violator Centers, facilities that limit incarceration of technical violators to 90 days. Since November 2014, Pennsylvania has experienced a 51 percent increase in the use of Parole Violator Centers as a sanction for technical violators, which has resulted in cost savings due to reduced length of stay. Related to this policy is a 55 percent reduction in the number of parolees revoked to prison for absconding from supervision.
The Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) approved a subaward to Pennsylvania to support statewide staff skills development, including training for parole staff on effective practices in supervision as well as training on the use of risk assessments. PCCD is utilizing subaward funding to enhance performance measurement through a publically available Justice Reinvestment data dashboard. The award will also facilitate county-based data collection and analysis to improve understanding of one of the state’s key drivers, “short-minimum” bound offenders, and inform policies to address this issue.
The reductions in the prison operating costs, which were expected to result from the impact of SB 100 on the prison population, were estimated to result in gross savings of $139 million by 2018.18 Pennsylvania’s second piece of JRI legislation, HB 135, which was signed into law in October 2012, codified a funding structure to expand victims’ services at the county and state level; offer financial support to counties that were willing to increase the number of low-risk offenders (with minimum sentences of up to one year) housed in county facilities; use data-supported law enforcement strategies to prevent crime; and strengthen probation services.19 In FY 2013–FY 2014 and FY 2014–FY 2015, Pennsylvania reinvested over $1 million to strengthen victim’s services and improve the use of risk assessment tools. Based on savings realized during FY 2014–FY 2015, Pennsylvania plans to reinvest an additional $2.95 million in FY 2015–FY 2016 to continue strengthening victim’s services, improve the use of risk assessment tools, support data-driven crime prevention efforts, and build capacity within local probation departments.
Pennsylvania state agencies measure important JRI outcomes with data that are provided by the PBPP and DOC to enhance a set of existing metrics used to evaluate the offender population. These metrics now include the specific elements of justice reinvestment, and the data will be made available to the public via a website hosted by PCCD.20 The CSG Justice Center engaged key stakeholders from DOC and PBPP to achieve consensus on a set of measures for inclusion on the dashboard to monitor Pennsylvania’s performance and facilitate the use of data to continue informing policy in Pennsylvania.
- Justice Reinvestment in Pennsylvania: Dynamic Strategies for Reducing Corrections Costs and Improving Public Safety. The CSG Justice Center, BJA sponsored, 2013. Senate Bill 100 and House Bill 135, signed into law in 2012, are projected to generate substantial cost savings, a portion of which will be invested in public safety in the coming years. PDF
- Justice Reinvestment in Pennsylvania: A Comprehensive Public Safety Plan for the Commonwealth. The CSG Justice Center, BJA sponsored, 2012. This policy framework details four main areas for improvement and reallocation of Pennsylvania's criminal justice spending. PDF
Updated September 2015
Notes1 Previous projections estimated the reduction of the prison population to be over 2,700 inmates, resulting in savings of $254-260.5 million; however, these projections were revised after the passage of the JRI legislation because not all of the policies recommended by the state’s JRI working group were enacted; Corbett, Tom. 2013. 2013-14 Governor’s Executive Budget. Harrisburg, PA: Office of the Governor. Markosek, Joe. 2013. Primer for the House Appropriations Committee: Justice Reinvestment Initiative. Harrisburg: Pennsylvania House Appropriations Committee.
2 Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Grant Formula Summary spreadsheet, June 2015.
3 Bureau of Justice Statistics. 2013. Prisoners Series. Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics.
4 Council of State Governments Justice Center. 2012a. “Justice Reinvestment in Pennsylvania: Final Analysis: Law Enforcement, Community Supervision, Prison and Parole Processes.” Presentation to the Pennsylvania Working Group, Harrisburg, April 26. Corbett, Tom. “Phase I Letter of Interest.” January 31, 2011.
5 Corbett, Tom. “Phase I Letter of Interest.” January 31, 2011.
7 Pennsylvania JRI stakeholder interviews, November 5, 2012.
8 Council of State Governments Justice Center. 2012b. Justice Reinvestment in Pennsylvania: A Comprehensive Public Safety Plan for the Commonwealth. New York: Council of State Governments Justice Center.
9 Council of State Governments Justice Center. “Pennsylvania February 2012 Technical Assistance Monthly Activity Report.” March 15, 2012. Council of State Governments Justice Center. “Pennsylvania March 2012 Technical Assistance Monthly Activity Report.” April 15, 2012.
10 Council of State Governments Justice Center (2012b).
12 Pennsylvania Senate Bill 100, 2012.
13 Council of State Governments (2012b).
14 Corbett (2013).
15 Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. 2013. Recidivism Report: 2013. Mechanicsburg: Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.
16 Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of General Services, Bureau of Procurement. 2013. “Invitation for Bid for Housing and Treatment Services (IFB no. 610024114).” Harrisburg: Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of General Services.
17 Council of State Governments Justice Center. Email message. September 13, 2013.
18 Corbett (2013).
19 Pennsylvania House Bill 135, 2012.
20 Council of State Governments Justice Center. Email message. September 13, 2013.