In June, the state legislature passed and Governor Corbett signed Senate Bill 100, now Act 122 of 2012, legislation to address Pennsylvania’s woefully overcrowded prisons. Yeah for us! The new law expands eligibility for alternative sentencing programs and creates a tiered sanction system for technical parole violators. We’ve written about this on at least two occasions.
Unfortunately, the law also repeals the Department of Corrections’ pre-release program. This program, which has existed for several decades, allowed some inmates to go to a halfway house as they approached their minimum sentence, in anticipation of being paroled. Now, all inmates, regardless of offense or danger to public safety (or lack thereof), will stay in state prisons until they hit their minimum.
The repeal of the pre-release program was borne from a mentality that continues to haunt the legislature, even with the passage of SB 100. I call it “dumb on crime.” With the legislature due to return on September 24, there are at least two issues percolating that continue the pro-incarceration mentality. I’m not at liberty to talk about them at the moment because the ACLU of PA is in a position of possibly influencing the direction of those issues.
But the bottom line is this: For all the hoopla around SB 100 and the apparent awakening to the problem of overincarceration, Pennsylvania won’t make any progress until policymakers stop reacting to every problem with new crimes and longer sentences. There’s no evidence that their mentality has changed just yet.