Record drop in Pennsylvania prison inmate population
January 22, 2019
Governor Tom Wolf has announced the largest reduction of inmates in the Pennsylvania state prison system since record keeping began.
In 2018, the total DOC inmate population dropped from 48,438 to 47,370, a decrease of 1,068 inmates or 2.2 percent over 2017. The inmate population has declined six of the past seven years.
“The 2018 calendar year reduction represents the single largest year-over-year decrease of inmate population on record,” Gov. Wolf said. “The historic decline demonstrates that common-sense criminal justice reforms work and bolsters the case for expanding reforms while ensuring the safety of all citizens.”
“Only a decade ago, Pennsylvania was shipping inmates to other states because of overcrowding,” said Corrections Secretary John Wetzel. “The work of the Department of Corrections and Board of Probation and Parole along with the reforms under the Justice Reinvestment Initiative made the seemingly impossible possible: Reducing the prison population, while at the same time crime rates are among the lowest in a generation.”
A major contributor to the decline was a significant decrease in prison admissions during 2018. New court commitments dropped by 617 inmates from 2017 to 2018 (a seven percent decrease), while parole violator admissions dropped by 575 from 2017 to 2018 (a six percent decrease).
“It is difficult to ascertain why court commitments dropped during 2018, but it may be due to continued crime drops across Pennsylvania or to other efforts by the counties to divert appropriate cases from state sentences,” Mr. Wetzel said “The drop in parole violator admissions is likely due to improved efforts, under the DOC/Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole consolidation, to divert technical parole violators from lengthy returns to state prison.”
Amid the record decline in prison population, Pennsylvania continues its leadership role in common-sense criminal justice reform. Gov. Wolf signed the “Clean Slate” bill in June 2018, with some provisions in effect beginning Dec. 26, 2018. The first of its kind in the nation, Clean Slate helps those who have committed low-level offenses and have paid their penalty get back on the path to a blemish-free record, removing potential roadblocks to jobs, housing, health care, and education.
“The introduction of Clean Slate, a model for the nation, is one more step forward in creating effective, bipartisan criminal justice reforms that do not compromise on public safety,” Gov. Wolf said.
The criminal justice reforms Gov. Wolf is calling for include:
Passage and implementation of JRI 2 to address the high cost of incarceration in the state, to strengthen support for county probation programs, and to fix inadequate sentencing guidelines.
Reforming the pre-trial system to make certain that those accused of a crime have access to competent legal counsel and a reasonable bail system.
Reforming the post-trial criminal justice system to ensure work towards rehabilitation of individuals and preparation to reenter society, rather than creating further risks for recidivism.
Focusing on probation reform to ensure the right individuals have the right level of supervision and technical probation violations do not mean an immediate return to incarceration. This works hand-in-hand with first ensuring sentences are commensurate with the severity of crimes committed.