Smith Says Prison Reform Measure Will Cut Spending, Improve Corrections System
(HARRISBURG) - House Speaker Sam Smith (R-Jefferson, Indiana, Armstrong) today praised a new state law aimed at lowering the cost of the state’s prison system and reducing its population, while providing for proven treatment and rehabilitation methods.
“There are many cases involving nonviolent offenders where it makes sense to deal with them outside the state prison system,” Smith said. “This law provides for that. It makes more nonviolent offenders eligible for alternative sentencing programs and really emphasizes the use of treatment programs for drug and alcohol offenders at the local level.”
He noted that after years of building more prisons, corresponding increases to the corrections budget, along with the number of repeat offenders, state officials realized it was time to take a step back and re-evaluate the entire criminal justice system.
“Our aim over the next several years is to cut spending and improve the effectiveness of the prison system,” Smith said. “We will not compromise the public’s safety in order to accomplish these goals. I am confident we can retain our focus on both.”
Pennsylvania’s state prisons now have more than 50,000 residents and it costs approximately $35,000 annually to house each inmate.
“We’ve obviously been focused on getting tough on crime and putting criminals away,” Smith said. “Now we are seeing the results of that in facility overcrowding, which is compounded by the high number of people returning to prison. Our focus needs to change because taxpayers cannot continue to bear this burden.”
Act 122 of 2012 includes the recommendations of what is known as the “Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI).” The JRI was created by Gov. Tom Corbett and legislative leaders earlier this year to reduce corrections spending and reinvest a portion of the savings generated in strategies that can increase public safety. The law’s provisions include, but are not limited to:
• The creation of a community re-entry program that helps inmates find jobs that match their skills once they leave prison.
• The expanded use of alternative sentencing programs that include boot camps and intermediate punishment strategies that combine confinement with treatment rather than traditional state prison terms.
• Sending nonviolent offenders to local facilities for treatment instead of state prisons.
• Prohibiting those convicted of low-grade misdemeanors from serving in state prisons.
• Requiring those convicted of drug and alcohol violations, and currently on probation, to submit to random drug testing and placing them in the county jail if they fail the test.
Smith noted that over the next five years these reforms are expected to result in more than $300 million in savings. He said there is a separate piece of legislation, currently making its way through the Senate, which will take some of this savings and send it to local law enforcement agencies and county prisons to be used for various law enforcement, probation, parole, and victim services.
“The overall emphasis is on keeping state prison costs down by providing nonviolent offenders with services and treatments at the local level,” Smith said. “While I believe this is the path we need to take, I know that our local service providers need the resources to get the job done. We now have a comprehensive plan in place to overhaul our criminal justice system and I look forward to the Senate acting on the final piece of legislation in the fall.”
State Representative Sam Smith
66th District, Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Contact: Kelly Fedeli