Increasingly, people across the political spectrum have realized that mass incarceration, that is imprisoning large numbers of people for long periods of time, is an utter failure as public policy. It has a devastating impact on those who become ensnared in the system, with life-long consequences even for those who are arrested but never convicted of a crime. It disproportionately harms poor communities of color and devastates families. It is unnecessarily extreme, and it fails to produce a proportional increase in public safety.
In the past few years, states as diverse as Mississippi and New York have passed laws and implemented policies to reduce their prison populations. Pennsylvania, however, swims stubbornly against the tide of reform, with only a small reduction in its prison population in recent years. There are still almost 50,000 people in the state correctional system alone. The total number of people currently incarcerated in Pennsylvania climbs to 360,800 when people incarcerated in county jails or on probation or parole are included—more than the entire population of Pittsburgh.
Now is the time for common sense, bipartisan reform—solutions that have worked to reduce prison populations without compromising public safety in other states. We can’t afford to wait—the human and financial costs of mass incarceration are too high. The ACLU of Pennsylvania advocates for: