HARRISBURG — The ACLU of Pennsylvania has released a new edition of its report More Law, Less Justice, exposing how Pennsylvania state legislators continue to pass bills that expand the commonwealth’s criminal justice system with an overreliance on punishment. 

According to the report, during the 2019-2020 session, the General Assembly passed 15 new criminal offenses and suboffenses, with 26 new penalties, all with bipartisan support. Nearly 300 bills that the ACLU-PA refers to as “carceral bills'' were introduced over the two-year session. 

The vast majority of “new” offenses created by the Legislature covers behaviors already captured by laws that existed in 1972, when the current crimes code was codified. Since that time, the Legislature has made countless unnecessary changes and additions. By 2010, the criminal code contained 636 offenses. 

Today, there are more than 1,500. 

“Pennsylvania lawmakers like to talk about the laws they pass as ‘reform,’” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “The reality is, the vast majority of new laws related to criminal justice coming out of Harrisburg amount to little more than legislative busywork that duplicates existing law, giving police and prosecutors ever more power to bully suspects into taking plea deals.

“In every area of the criminal legal system, it is Black and brown people who suffer the most. By expanding punishment, lawmakers are propping up a racist system of mass incarceration.”      

This iteration of More Law, Less Justice also examines the nearly 900 collateral consequences that Pennsylvanians with a criminal conviction face as a result of the ever-expanding crimes code, including restricted access to government benefits, college financial aid, housing, and employment. Collateral consequences can also prohibit a person with a criminal conviction from sitting on a jury or running for public office. 

The report recommends that Pennsylvania state legislators stop introducing and/or supporting any proposed legislation that adds new criminal offenses, penalties, or sentencing enhancements; that legislators instead should begin repealing the laws and offenses contributing to our mass incarceration crisis; and that legislators should initiate a major overhaul of the current code and consolidate all criminal offenses and penalties.

You can find the report at aclupa.org/MLLJ2.