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Sentencing: Pennsylvania Reform Measure Becomes Law

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #554)

Sentencing reform is coming to Pennsylvania. As we reported last week, sentencing reform bill House Bill 4 had passed the Senate and awaited routine approval in the House. Now the bill, which would allow for the diversion of nonviolent drug offenders into treatment programs, has passed the House and been signed by Gov. Ed Rendell (D) and will go into effect 90 days after official publication.

State Correctional Institution, Chester, Pennsylvania
It won't be soon enough for the cash-starved Keystone State, where the number of prisoners has quadrupled since the 1980s and increased by 21% in the last six years. Prison spending currently eats up 6% of the total state budget.

The bill and related legislation is being described by some involved in the process as the biggest sentencing reform in years in Pennsylvania. It will allow the early release of some prisoners, including drug and petty theft offenders, if they complete educational and job-training programs.

"This represents a new approach to criminal justice for offenders convicted of nonviolent crimes," said House Speaker Dennis M. O'Brien (R-Philadelphia), one of the bills' chief advocates. "It will make the public safer, ensure that offenders receive services essential to break the cycle of crime, reduce duplication of efforts that waste taxpayer dollars, and ensure that crime victims are treated fairly," he told the Philadelphia Inquirer.

"We have a serious problem here in Pennsylvania with the numbers of people we are sending to prison," said William DiMascio, whose organization, The Prison Society, advocates on behalf of prisoners. "With so many new people entering the system, and with sentences becoming longer and parole becoming tighter, it was inevitable that we would reach a point of saturation. With prisons at capacity -- and beyond capacity -- you begin to have dangerous conditions, both for the people held there and for the people who work there," he said. "Doing nothing was not an option."

But although early release and diversion provisions in the bill do not apply to violent offenders, the politics of violent crime has already intruded. In response to the killing of a Philadelphia police officer, just four days after signing the bill, Gov. Rendell issued a statement announcing the suspension of releases for all paroled prisoners pending a review of the parole and corrections systems.

"Last week, Philadelphia Police Officer Patrick McDonald was tragically murdered by a paroled offender, but it is even more tragic that this was the second instance within the last four months of a parolee shooting a Philadelphia police officer," wrote Rendell, referring to the shooting of Sgt. Stephen Liczbinski. "Heartbreaking losses such as these have shed light on the need to thoroughly review the process by which Pennsylvania paroles violent offenders. Therefore, I am asking you to review the way in which these two cases were managed by the Department of Corrections and the Board of Probation and Parole in order to minimize the likelihood that these kinds of scenarios will be repeated."

So, for the time being, someone paroled after doing time for a nonviolent drug offense is going to be stuck in prison because a paroled violent offender killed a police officer, the new law notwithstanding.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Anonymous (not verified)

i would really like to meet you,you speak nothing but truth
meduanna4all !!!!!!!!!!

Tue, 10/07/2008 - 9:55am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

the biggest problem in pa is the voters dont count for anything.the MAN will not put a legalization initiative on the ballot for the people to vote on.we are a commonwealth and only our senators and governors can make change,or put questions for the PEOPLE to answer on our voting ballots.the constitution was written on hempen paper,but you may as well wipe your ass with it,our forefathers are already ass up in there graves over the stupid laws these politicians pass to go against what they were all fighting for.

Tue, 10/07/2008 - 9:39am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Maybe if the C/O's wouldn't abuse the inmates then this Police Officer would not have been killed. The C/O's in these P.A. Concentration Camps rape, beat and torture our American Captives on a daily basis. In 2007 at SCI Smithfield there were 3 "suicides" all within 90 with one of the men found with both legs broken but yet he hung himself

Thu, 05/07/2009 - 4:31am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

You mean all within 90 days apart. I heard about that and I'm on your other

Thu, 05/07/2009 - 4:33am Permalink
Ed barnat … (not verified)

While i was here  from in 91 to 94 I witnesed the RHU staff on H block which was the hole at the time deprive an inmate of his breakfast,,, I still remember the inmate name, Frick,, who had mental issues which were obvious because he would talk to himself .He was an older man guessing in his late 50's to early 60's .He was not allowed his breakfeast that day because he didnt get to the front of his cell door intime after jumping off of his bunk to receive his food tray that morning and the CO at the time serving the trays was only at the very next cell handing that inmate his food tray when Frick said Im here Im here',,, and the CO plain out told Krick''' Maybe next time youll be at your door waiting the next time i have your food .I still remember  Everbody on that block yelling at the CO  to just give the poor guy his tray (which he still refused to do). Well ,,,after about a hour of screaming for his food and the CO taking out the 1 EXTRA  FOOD TRAY  with him to the bubble which is what they called the gaurd station in between the 2 blocks This inmate finallly flipped out or snapped and started breaking out the window of his cell which  lead only into the interior of the prison itself with a tin door that he broke off of his cabnet. The next thing you now the men in black arrived at H block, ented his cell and started beating on him and took him away to the RHU which was worse then the regular hole there.I never ever saw Mr Frick again the rest of my time there untill i was released on July 12 1994 This happen event happened during the month of Jan or Feb of 1993 during the first world trade center bombings because i received a local newspaper while in there from my home town which is how i remembered when this took place. After reading about the abuse at SCI smithfield today ,,,it just brought back this memory that i still have of abuses that i witnessed while an inmate at SCI smithfield

Tue, 03/22/2011 - 4:09pm Permalink

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