Ann (contd)- Exec Director of PA Prison Society

Even though we see more and more mandatory sentences and thousands of drug offenders with huge sentences, there are positive changes that have been going on in Pennsylvania criminal justice. Other jurisdictions are doing a much better job, however, of revamping the criminal justice system.

There are basic questions to mass incarceration. We know that minorities are overly represented. We know that poor people are overly represented. We do need to make changes. If nothing else, we just can’t afford the system as it is. Even if we want to incarcerate everybody, which we don’t, if we did, we could not afford to do it. It would mean there would be less money for schools, less money for seniors, less money for hospitals, less money for plenty of other things that we need to continue our society. But all of that aside, we have seen in the last couple of General Assembly Sessions, a move towards some prison reform measures, a move towards recognizing that the system is eating up $2 billion dollars a year.  That it is not producing desired results, since the recidivism rate is sky high. We know that people go into the system; they come out and often go back in. They are not equipped with skills. But all of that goes to say that people are recognizing that this is a problem.

Because of that, I think the biggest plus that we’re really seeing now, is that more and more stakeholders, agency leaders, and legislators, are starting to come together and talk about how the system has failed and how we can make improvements. PA is not ready to introduce something like proposition 47 in California where we say a certain group of individuals should not and will not be incarcerated. But we’re slowly chipping away at it. There are some sentences that policy makers are beginning to rethink. For example, Philadelphia is rethinking marijuana sentences. These are very slow to change but important to begin the process in PA. By having more and more stakeholders, agencies and individuals look at what the problems are, and realize it can’t continue this way, we will slowly see real change.. If you couple that with the escalating costs of the system- at the expense of other programs, change is inevitable.

Ann Schwartzman- Exec Director of PA Prison Society

http://www.prisonsociety.org
The mission of the Pennsylvania Prison Society is to advocate for a humane, just and restorative correctional system, and to promote a rational approach to criminal justice issues. The Prison Society recognizes that constructive corrections helps to repair the damages of crimes to victims and communities. The equilibrium achieved through this restorative approach, which is both cost effective and humane, benefits and enriches all facets of society and advances the well being of the entire community.

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