Ending Mass Incarceration in Pennsylvania

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.

The Facts about Mass Incarceration in Pennsylvania

  • Pennsylvania has the seventh largest prison population in the country;
  • Pennsylvania has the highest incarceration rate in the northeast—the fourth highest in the country;
  • One of seven people on parole in the entire country lives in Pennsylvania;
  • Nearly half of all admissions to prison are for parole violations;
  • Pennsylvania has the second-longest length of prison stay in the country;
  • Seven in ten new commitments  are for nonviolent offenses;
  • Two out of three people in prison are parents;
  • Black people are incarcerated at nine times the rate of White people; Latino people at three times the rate of White people;
  • Pennsylvania’s prison population has consistently exceeded capacity over the past decade; and
  • Spending on corrections in Pennsylvania has increased by 35 percent since 2004, to about $2 billion per year. 

How do we fix our fix our broken criminal justice system?

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:

  • Challenging unconstitutional and racially biased police practices;
  • Ending the school-to-prison pipeline by reducing police presence in schools;
  • Reducing  the number of people stuck in jail after an arrest not because they pose a threat to public safety but because they can’t afford bail;
  • Expanding alternatives to incarceration for people struggling with substance abuse and mental health problems;
  • Eliminating harsh and disproportionate mandatory minimum sentences;
  • Providing constitutionally adequate defense for the 80% of people facing jail time who cannot afford their own attorney;
  • Treating drug use as a public health issue rather than a criminal offense;
  • Ending the practice of sending poor people to prison for inability to pay fines and court costs; and
  • Reducing barriers to re-entry, including expungement of criminal records after a certain period of time.
WebSanity Top Secret