As explained in our More Law, Less Justice: 2017-2018 session report, for the last four decades, the Pennsylvania Legislature has acted as a bipartisan offense factory, churning out hundreds of new bills each legislative session that seek to add new crimes and penalties to our already expansive criminal code.

Each session, legislators pass enough of those bills that a steady stream of new and unnecessary criminal offenses and penalties become law. As legislators expand the scope of criminalized behavior in Pennsylvania, this gives police more power to stop and arrest people for an ever-widening variety of behaviors. Duplicative criminal offenses give prosecutors greater power to coerce guilty pleas. Harsher penalties and sentencing enhancements increase sentences, keeping people behind bars for longer. 

This update to the initial report analyzes legislation passed during the 2019-2020 session. During the two-year session, members of the General Assembly introduced more than 280 bills to expand criminal offenses and punishments, passing 15 new offenses and suboffenses, with 26 new penalties—all with bipartisan support. This update also highlights legislators’ particular affinity for generating unnecessary aggravated assault offenses and offenses related to gendered and sexual violence without actually providing meaningful solutions to harm.