Pennsylvania has taken a strict approach to sentencing over the past several decades, resulting in a prison population that has swelled by 40 percent in the last dozen years, a corrections budget of over $1 billion, and over 20 penitentiaries currently over capacity.
However, as the Philadelphia Inquirer reports, the state has begun to shift away from over-incarceration and move toward reforms with an emphasis on rehabilitation programs for nonviolent offenders:
Emblematic of that philosophical shift, impelled in no small part by the parlous economy, is legislation signed last month by Gov. Corbett. The measures mandated by the Criminal Justice Reform Act are projected to lower Pennsylvania’s prison population by as many as 4,000 inmates over four years and to save up to $370 million in five years.
[…] William F. Plantier, Bucks County’s director of corrections…called the new law “an enlightened approach” to corrections and said he was buoyed by the effort to move away from the notion that more prisons were the only way to ensure public safety. The reality, Plantier said, is that “you just can’t keep on locking up everyone.”
Gov. Tom Corbett (R-PA) is just one of several conservative governors to take steps toward important — and fiscally responsible — prison reforms in their states. Most recently, Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) signed a bill to eliminate jail time and expand rehabilitation programs for nonviolent drug offenders, explaining that this type of prison reform is a more effective way to combat drug crime than the failed policies of the nation’s Drug War. John Kasich (R-OH) pushed a similar bill through his state legislature this May.
Considering the fact that the country’s broken criminal justice system contributes to wrongful deaths, potential psychological abuses, and incidents of sexual assault, these Republican governors are right to take steps toward reforms. States like Florida and New Hampshire, however, continue to advocate for disastrous policies to privatize their prison systems, a move that wouldn’t actually save any money and could actually increase the rate of incarceration.