PHILADELPHIA — The ACLU of Pennsylvania today released a new report that outlines how Pennsylvania can cut incarceration in half by pursuing reforms to the commonwealth’s drug sentencing laws. The report also includes recommendations to reform the laws that in recent years have led to Pennsylvania having the third-highest per capita rate in the nation of people on parole, probation, or other community supervision.
The report is a part of the ACLU’s Smart Justice 50-State Blueprints project, a comprehensive, state-by-state analysis of how states can transform their criminal justice system and cut incarceration in half.
“The findings of this important study confirm what we’ve suspected for some time about the state of the commonwealth’s criminal justice system,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “From systemic racial disparities to sentencing that is heavily tilted towards retribution instead of restorative justice, to harsh parole and probation rules that set up too many of those attempting successful reentry for failure, it’s clear that we need deep and meaningful reform in Pennsylvania. We’ll look to the legislature, the courts, district attorneys, and voters to fuel this reform.”
The Smart Justice 50-State Blueprints is the first-ever analysis of its kind and will serve as a tool for activists, advocates, and policymakers to push for transformational change to the criminal justice system. They are the result of a multi-year partnership between the ACLU, its state affiliates, and the Urban Institute to develop actionable policy options for each state that capture the nuance of local laws and sentencing practices.
The blueprint includes an overview of Pennsylvania’s incarcerated populations, including analysis on who is being sent to jail and prison and the racial disparities that are present, what drives people into the system, how long people spend behind bars, and why people are imprisoned for so long.
The blueprints offer a calculation on the impact of certain reforms by 2025 on racial disparities in the prison population, fiscal costs, and overall prison population and progress towards a 50% decarceration goal.
“From Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, Lancaster to Erie, and everywhere in between, Pennsylvanians are ready for smart justice,” said Nick Pressley, director of the ACLU's Campaign for Smart Justice in Pennsylvania. “The statewide campaign that we are building will look to this blueprint as a roadmap for how we will work with legislators, prosecutors, and the courts to reform our criminal justice system in the commonwealth.”
Key findings from the Pennsylvania blueprint include the deep racial disparities in the criminal justice system in which Black people make up 47 percent of the prison population but only 10 percent of the total adult state population and that Pennsylvania has the second largest population of people serving life without parole in the country, as of 2012.
The reports are all viewable on an interactive website that allows users to visualize the reductions in jail and prison population that would result from the policy decisions that states pursue. The interactive feature is available here.
The website and the reports were created by utilizing a forecasting tool developed by the Urban Institute, which can be viewed here.
The ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice is an unprecedented, multi-year effort to reduce the U.S. jail and prison population by 50 percent and to combat racial disparities rampant in the criminal justice system. The campaign is working in all 50 states for reforms to usher in a new era of justice in America.
For more information about the ACLU’s Campaign for Smart Justice: https://www.aclu.org/issues/smart-justice.