Pennsylvania enters new phase of criminal justice reform with JRI II

Author: Jason Gottesman/Thursday, February 18, 2016/Categories: News and Views

Following up on the success of the first rendition of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI), Pennsylvania is now the only state in the nation to be selected to participate in the data-driven second part of the criminal justice reform program leaders from both parties in all three branches of government announced Thursday.

“It’s a bipartisan, inter-branch effort that will use data and facts to arrive at policy decisions that affect positive change throughout our society,” said Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro, who also serves as the chairman of the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency.

“By using a data driven approach to criminal justice reform, we can effectively reduce spending while at the same time reducing crime and increasing public safety.”

Shapiro also noted the successes of JRI I, which had its chief success in reducing Pennsylvania’s booming prison population and saving money. In 2014 more than $9 million has been redirected to innovating police practices, county probation grants, county diversion program, the Board of Probation and Parole, and the Pennsylvania Sentencing Commission among others criminal justice initiatives and agencies.

Pennsylvania’s leaders working for criminal justice reform are hoping JRI II will build on the success of the first part of the program and will be working toward having a package of legislation ready for the new legislature to act on at the beginning of 2017.

“We want to intervene more effectively early on in the process so that we’re not creating a criminal system that actually creates more crime, that we’re actually reducing crime,” added Gov. Tom Wolf. “This is really a big deal for Pennsylvania.”

Two legislative Republicans—Sen. Stewart Greenleaf (R-Montgomery) and Rep. Mike Vereb (R-Montgomery)—added their support to the new phase of the program. Sen. Greenleaf noted he already has introduced legislation encompassing several concepts that will be looked at as part of JRI II, including combining the Department of Corrections and Board of Probation and Parole, creating best practices for law enforcement, and working toward community policing.

“We have to take real life experience and get away from the politics and realize that we can talk about large populations in prison increasing and decreasing…we have to do more for these people,” Rep. Vereb added.

The group speaking about the new phase of the program Thursday indicated that there is currently no leading proposal or group of proposals that they will be looking at since they want the success of the program and its recommendations to be creatures of the data-driven approach that will be taken.

“We’re going to follow the data, we do want to follow the challenges that are out there,” Shapiro said. “We should have a full menu of options within the lanes that are set for JRI and we should all get after it in a thoughtful, meaningful way.”

Corrections Sec. John Wetzel argued that while the discussions that will lead to an eventual consensus are likely to be contentious and lively, only good outcomes will result.

“There’s nothing that can come from this other than great outcomes,” he said.

This second phase of JRI will focus mainly on how to better operate the criminal justice system starting with an adult’s first contact with the system.

The program is sponsored by the US Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, the Justice Center of the Council of State Governments, and the PEW Charitable Trusts all of whom were said to help the ongoing status of the program by providing funding, outside expertise, and/or experience.