Pennsylvania's Statehouse-to-Prison Pipeline
The statehouse-to-prison pipeline is the practice of introducing bills that create new crimes, enhance existing penalties, and/or expand current laws that result in more people going to prison or jail.
Mass incarceration begins in the Pennsylvania General Assembly.
Our More Law, Less Justice reports highlight the role and responsibility of the Pennsylvania General Assembly in fueling mass incarceration in our commonwealth.
Law enforcement and prosecutors already have all of the tools necessary to protect public safety. But over the last four decades, the Pennsylvania General Assembly has become a bipartisan offense factory, churning out hundreds of new bills each legislative session that seek to add new and duplicative offenses and increased penalties to our already bloated criminal code. This is the statehouse-to-prison pipeline.
This unrelenting expansion diverts power away from judges and into the hands of police and prosecutors, contributing to the ever-escalating incarceration of hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians. Despite the multi-billion dollar price tag to fund our mass incarceration system, legislators on both sides of the aisle feverishly file and support bills that mete out harsher penalties and more punishment.
Too many legislators fail to grasp their direct role in imprisoning tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians and the damage it wreaks on our communities, our families, and our economy. When pressed, legislators who introduce, sponsor, or vote for punitive legislation will often argue that their support for a particular bill was justified because it responded to a recent tragedy. Others might simply dismiss its carceral effects.
But the problem is never one bill alone—it is the compound effect that all these bills have together over time. It’s mass incarceration by a thousand cuts. Legislators must stop the continuous pipeline of unnecessary and duplicative bills that continue to put more and more people behind bars.
None of these bills make us safer.
Unfortunately, in Pennsylvania, more law is less justice.