Press For New Prison Reforms

March 22, 2019 GMT

Political polarization has become the most prominent feature of federal and state governance in this era. Yet, some issues remain big enough to force politicians from the ends of the political spectrum to the middle. So it is with criminal justice reform. In Congress and the state Legislature, a confluence of factors regarding different elements of the criminal justice system have created broad coalitions for reform. The enormous financial cost of mass incarceration has put fiscal conservatives in league with progressives who contend that the system disproportionately punishes minorities. Pennsylvania’s prison population has declined in six of the last seven years, and by 2 percent between 2017 and 2018, from 48,438 to 47,370. That’s due largely to sentencing reforms and new approaches such as the drug court pioneered by Judge Michael Barrasse in Lackawanna County. With annual incarceration costs of more than $43,000 per inmate, the trend serves taxpayers rather than inmates and their families alone. Now, a bipartisan group of state senators wants to maintain the momentum. They have proposed parole and probation reforms meant to reduce recidivism, easier medical parole for ailing older inmates, and further tweaks to prevent draconian sentences for minor crimes. The reforms so far have produced greater fairness and a smaller prison population without imperiling public safety. Lawmakers should press the new reforms to passage.