The state senate has passed three bills aimed at giving judges more sentencing alternatives. Their sponsor is Montgomery and Bucks County Senator Stewart Greenleaf. One would require the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing to help judges develop risk assessments. They would identify non-violent offenders with the lowest risk of committing another serious crime. The other bills would allow inmates with short minimum sentences to serve their time in community-based correction or treatment centers and allow earlier parole for non-violent offenders. He says the emphasis in recent years on longer and longer prison terms is not working.
“46 percent of the people who come out of our state prisons return in three years, and violent crime continues to climb during that period of time. New York has adopted a different approach and has adopted some of the reforms that we’re talking about. They are reducing their prison population by 1,000 a year, and their violent crime statistics are going down.”
He says New York took a proactive approach.
“What they did was make some reforms and try to deal with these issues before they got out of hand, and they’ve been very successful and reduced violent crime, but also saved money.”
Greenleaf says Pennsylvania’s inmate population has gone up by more than 600 percent in 30 years, from a little over 8,000 in 1980 to more than 51,000 now, and without alternative sentencing, new prisons will be full as soon as they are built. He says the best public safety results from turning offenders into productive, taxpaying citizens.