Auditor General discusses justice reform

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HARRISBURG, DAUPHIN COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) — Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale held a conference Tuesday about the state’s need for continuing justice reform.

“Beyond creating a more equitable approach to enforcing our laws, enacting criminal justice reforms can produce big savings for Pennsylvania taxpayers,” DePasquale said during the conference. “We also need to make sure to invest in efforts to give inmates the ability to successfully reenter society and avoid returning to prison.”

DePasquale says continued reforms within the commonwealth’s criminal justice system can lead to millions of dollars in tax payer saving.

According to a special report released by the auditor general’s office, Pennsylvania spent $2.6 billion in the 2018-2019 fiscal year incarcerating about 45,929 people. About 16% of those prison beds were filled by people who have not committed crimes but violated propation or parole such as breaking curfew, costing tax payers $101 million per year.

Although Pennsylvania’s prison population has been declining and has seen an over 10 percent decrease in numbers, the commonwealth still has a higher rate of incarceration than the rest of the country on average. Pennsylvania incarcerates 725 of every 100,000 people compared to the country’s average of 698 of every 100,000 resident which already the highest rate in the world.

The report also outlines 18 recommendations for continuing justice reform on local and county levels.

These recommendations include pre-trial reforms such as defense funding and decreased use of straight cash bail as well as reforms during and after incarceration such as job training, pardons and celemcy.

During the conference, DePasquale noted that Pennsylvania has made progress, pointing to the Clean Slate that went into effect in 2019. The laws for some types of criminal records to be hidden from public databases especially nonviolent crimes that occurred more than 10 years ago.

“It took some time, but people on both sides of the aisle finally realized that the ‘lock-‘em-up, throw away the key’ approach to sentencing that began in the 1990s ultimately caused more problems than it solved,” DePasquale said. “It’s time for Pennsylvania to build on what we’ve learned and continue our progress.” 

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