2008 & 2012
Pennsylvania has used a Justice Reinvestment approach several times to address challenges in its criminal justice system. The first JRI effort began in 2007 to analyze data and propose data-driven policy solutions. With new leadership in the governor’s office and Department of Corrections, Pennsylvania again pursued JRI in 2011 with technical assistance from the CSG Justice Center in response to the growing strain of corrections costs on the state’s budget. A decline in law enforcement funding, a large number of people incarcerated on short sentences, and an inefficient parole process also challenged the criminal justice system’s effectiveness.
In 2008, findings from the state’s first Justice Reinvestment effort informed policy options that were enacted into legislation but ultimately were not completely implemented and did not have the intended effects. As a result of the second JRI effort, some policies were passed through Act 122 and Act 196, which included new sentencing guidelines, expansion of recidivism-reduction programs, and a funding framework to reinvest costs saved. This resulted in Pennsylvania making policy and practice changes in partnership with multiple agencies.1
JRI-Driven Policies and Practices
- Authorize or expand risk-reduction sentencing or incentive sentences (2008)
- Authorize performance incentive funding (2012)
- Authorize/develop/modify graduated responses or matrices for violations (2012)
- Cap revocation time (2012)
- Require evidence-based practices (2012)
- Improve behavioral health interventions (2008)
- Require data collection/performance measures (2008 and 2012)
- Improve restitution/victim notification (2012)
2019 & 2022
Despite a declining prison population and averted corrections costs, in 2015, Pennsylvania had the highest rate of incarcerated adults in the Northeast, and there were approximately 50,000 people incarcerated in state prison, which cost the state more than $2 billion annually. People on supervision who recidivated accounted for a portion of this cost, with nearly one-third of prison beds occupied by people who violated the conditions of their probation or parole. Insufficient county probation resources and inefficient use of parole resources limited the effectiveness of supervision and exacerbated recidivism. To address these issues, the state embarked on JRI for a third time in 2015 with technical assistance from the CSG Justice Center.
The state’s third JRI effort culminated in Acts 114 and 115, which were signed into law in 2019 and aimed to eliminate delays in releasing people with short sentences from prison and streamline the process used to direct people into drug treatment. Finally, in 2022, the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed House Bill (HB) 2464, which was based on a piece of Justice Reinvestment legislation from 2019 that failed to pass. The bill amended the Crime Victims Act of 1998 to improve services and outcomes for victims of crime. To make these changes, Pennsylvania implemented several policy and practice changes.2
As part of JRI, Pennsylvania focused on strengthening community-based treatment through the expanded use of performance-based contracts for nonresidential community corrections programs. This allowed the state to increase its oversight of organizations that provide programming and ensure they are delivering quality programs and improving outcomes for the people they serve. These providers are held accountable by requiring that they adhere to standards established in their contracts in order to continue receiving funding. Preliminary studies showed that Pennsylvania’s use of performance-based contracts for community-service providers reduced recidivism among participants by 11 percent and improved services for people on community supervision.3
For more information, see Justice Reinvestment in Pennsylvania.
JRI-Driven Policies and Practices
- Authorize or expand risk-reduction sentencing or incentive sentences (2019)
- Establish/expand presumptive parole for qualifying cases (2019)
- Authorize administrative jail sanctions (2019)
- Improve restitution/victim notification (2022)
Other JRI-Funded Projects
In Pennsylvania, individual agencies, in partnership with the CSG Justice Center, participated in the Justice Counts initiative as part of a larger criminal justice effort.
1 The Council of State Governments Justice Center, 2023, Justice Reinvestment in Pennsylvania, New York, NY: The Council of State Governments Justice Center, retrieved May 19, 2023 from https://csgjusticecenter.org/projects/justice-reinvestment/past-states/pennsylvania/.
3 Pennsylvania Pressroom, “Performance-Based Contracts Continue to Positively Affect Recidivism,” Pennsylvania Pressroom, August 25, 2015, retrieved from https://www.media.pa.gov/pages/corrections_details.aspx?newsid=225.