Montgomery and Bucks County State Senator Stewart Greenleaf is sponsoring legislation requiring the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing to help judges develop risk assessments. They would identify non-violent offenders who could benefit from alternative sentencing programs. He says the emphasis in recent years on longer and longer prison terms is not working.
“Right now our criminal justice system in Pennsylvania, and most of the nation, is based on just punishment, and punishment without rehabilitation is a failure. We know that because we have a 48 percent recidivism rate for people who we’re just punishing. They end up back in prison within three years.”
He says the Pennsylvania prison population went up by about 450 percent between 1980 and 2007, while the overall population went up by a little over four percent.
“There’s something wrong here, and it’s a revolving door that we have in our prisons, and we’re not really doing anything to help them not to come back.”
He says judges can help reduce prison overcrowding by using more sentencing programs that focus on rehabilitation.
“We need to find better punishment alternatives and rehabilitation alternatives than we have now because we can’t afford what we’re doing.”
He says specialty courts, such as drug and mental health courts, have been very effective in the small number of counties that have them, and the judge is still in full control.
“The judge is there, and he has a hammer and he has an inducement, and they can choose which one they want, so it’s quite a bit of motivation to people when they have someone there trying to help that also has the power to take punitive steps if they don’t change their life around.”
Greenleaf says prisoners re-entering society without the benefit of rehabilitation face the same influences and addictions that got them incarcerated in the first place. He says alternative sentencing programs are being used now, they need to be used more, and the best public safety results from turning offenders into productive citizens.