Total Correctional Population: 368,100
Number on Parole or Probation: 291,600
Number in Jail or Prison: 82,400
Incarceration Rate per 100,000 residents: 640
Incarceration Rate Rank: 21st
Corrections Share of 2018 General Fund Expenditures: 8.0%
“Correctional Populations in the United States, 2016,” U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics.
"2018 State Expenditure Report," National Association of State Budget Officers
Bills Recently Signed into Law
House Bill 1419: Ensures automatic record sealing for individuals convicted of low-level, nonviolent misdemeanor offenses after 10 crime-free years.
House Bill 163: Eliminates driver’s license suspensions for certain non-driving offenses.
House Resolution 76: Opts Pennsylvania out of federal provision that requires automatic suspensions of driver’s licenses of those convicted of certain crimes in order to receive federal highway funds.
Senate Bill 8: Civil asset forfeiture reforms: establishes higher burden of proof for the state in forfeiture proceedings; creates protections for third party owners by increasing burden of proof on the state; increases transparency for reporting and auditing at the county and state levels; creates additional procedural protections for property owners.
April 12, 2019
“The benefits of Clean Slate are clear: lower crime rates, taxpayer money saved as a result of reduced incarceration, and a stronger economy that allows more qualified job seekers to participate.”
Writing in the Hartford Courant, Right on Crime’s Marc Levin and the Center for American Progress’s Rebecca Vallas urged Connecticut lawmakers to pass the Clean Slate Act pending in the legislature. The Clean Slate Act would provide for the automatic expungement of criminal records for those who have completed their sentence and remained crime free for five years after a non-violent felony, or three years after a misdemeanor. Clean Slate laws have gained traction across the country—Pennsylvania and Utah both passed automatic expungement laws, and Kentucky and New Mexico expanded opportunities for expungement this year.
March 22, 2019
“It would just create a barrier where people would have to chase down a money order for $15 here, or this, or that—it just doesn’t make any sense.”
Pennsylvania’s Board of Pardons voted unanimously to get rid of application fees as of March 18th. Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, who also chairs the Board of Pardons, said the previous fees—$8 to download the application, $20 for a background check, $10 for a driving record, and $25 for processing—were too small to be meaningful for the Commonwealth but too burdensome for applicants. Fetterman also announced plans to make the application available online, and proposed a series of changes that would need to be made legislatively, including changing the requirements for commutations of life or death sentences.
January 18, 2019
“The historic decline demonstrates that common-sense criminal justice reforms work and bolsters the case for expanding reforms while ensuring the safety of all citizens.”
From 2017 to 2018, Pennsylvania’s state corrections population saw its biggest-ever decrease, dropping from 48,438 to 47,370. 617 fewer people were newly admitted to state prisons, while 575 fewer were returned for parole violations. Since the state passed a Justice Reinvestment Initiative in 2012, the prison population has declined by more than 7.4%. “We are locking up fewer people while crime rates continue to decline,” noted the Commonwealth Foundation’s Nathan Benefield. “It’s time for lawmakers to build on this momentum and advance reforms that improve sentencing and parole.”
January 4, 2019
“A mistake you might have made 10 years ago is not going to stand in the way of a good job, building a family, a career, a loan, going to college, getting a job.”
Pennsylvania officials announced a new program, “My Clean Slate,” which offers free legal counsel to help people determine if they are eligible for record-sealing. In the initial phase of the new law, applicants for record sealing must file a petition with the court and county where the original offense took place. Once the law is fully implemented this summer, eligible records will be sealed automatically. Since the Clean Slate Act went into effect in December, more than 700 people have applied to have their records sealed.
December 7, 2018
“The reality is states have been doing this. It has been successful. It has been a bipartisan issue…this is the one issue that is bringing people together right now.”
Justice Action Network partnered with the Washington Post and the University of Virginia on Criminal Justice Reform: The Road Ahead, bringing together elected officials and advocates from around the country. Senators Dick Durbin and Chuck Grassley discussed the outlook for The First Step Act and committed to working across party lines to move forward. Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, Representative Sheryl Delozier and Corrections Secretary John Wetzel discussed the commonwealth’s recent justice reforms, including this year’s Clean Slate bill. JAN’s Holly Harris talked with FreedomWorks’ Jason Pye and #cut50’s Jessica Jackson about justice reform’s bipartisan coalitions. Additional panels featured Senator Mike Lee, Leadership Conference’s Vanita Gupta, FAMM’s Kevin Ring, and Brittany Barnett and Sharanda Jones of the Buried Alive project.
November 9, 2018
“It’s a good sign that our state system and elected representatives actually sometimes listen.”
The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections revised its policy on book donationsafter criticism from donation groups and the families and friends of people who are incarcerated. As part of the heightened security measures instituted this summer, the DOC limited book orders to a catalog of 8,500 high-priced e-books. Under the new policy, books can be ordered directly from publishers and bookstores, and will be screened at a secure processing center before being sent to correctional facilities. In a release announcing the policy change, Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said they had listened to the public and developed “a fair procedure that balances our need for security with the inmates’ access to books.”
October 19, 2018
“The notion that we’re delivering behavioral health services and mental health services in the criminal justice system more than any other system is a national embarrassment. We have to have the courage to start by saying that we’re doing a terrible job.”
Pennsylvania’s Stepping Up Technical Assistance Center provides counties with support and resources to help reduce the number of people with mental illness in county jails, and ensure those who are incarcerated receive the treatment they need. The center is a partnership between the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency and the Council of State Governments Justice Center, and will use in-person and distance-based training to improve screenings and assessments and establish a baseline to track progress. To date, 29 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties have committed to reducing prison populations with mental illness, and officials are optimistic that Stepping Up’s resources and information-sharing will help achieve that goal.
October 19, 2018
“What’s refreshing with these dashboards is that before no one understood the basis of their efforts or the impact of their efforts. No one knew how their decisions impacted the jail population, and now we do.”
The Urban Institute conducted an examination of data dashboards in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania and the City and County of San Francisco California, and released a report on model structures and lessons learned for other jurisdictions looking to increase data-driven decision-making. Officials have created dashboards “to guide high-level decisions across agencies, and to support program and line-staff in their daily responsibilities,” and were able to monitor real-time effects of decisions on outcomes including jail populations and probation-related detainers.
October 5, 2018
“One of the biggest problems is, they don’t have the money to hire more public defenders. So as a result, their caseload is way too high. And they’re excellent lawyers—but you can only handle so many cases.”
Pennsylvania is the only state in the country that does not provide state-level funding for public defense. Instead, public defense is funded at the county level, and there is no consistent oversight of the system. Most counties do not track caseloads and outcomes comprehensively, and one third of counties were unable to provide full budget, salary and staffing information in response to public records requests. State Senator Stewart Greenleaf has long been a champion of public defense reform, but is unsure whether anyone will take up the cause when he retires in January.
September 28, 2018
“It’s cruel and unusual punishment for individuals trying to turn their lives around and innocent children and other family members who depend on them.”
In 2017, Pennsylvania’s Department of Transportation suspended nearly 40,000 licenses for nonviolent, non-driving offenses. Maxwell King, CEO of The Pittsburgh Foundation, and Matt Smith, president of the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce, say these suspensions trap low-income people in cycles of debt and poverty and increase the costs of enforcement and incarceration. They are collaborating on the Driven to Work campaign, pushing for the passage of House Bill 163 and House Resolution 76, which would remove license suspension as a penalty for nonviolent offenses that are not connected to driving. The reforms passed by a vote of 193-3 in the House in April and supporters anticipate a Senate vote soon.
September 21, 2018
“For too long, Philadelphia treated its citizens like ATMs, ensnaring thousands of people in a system designed to strip people of their property and their rights…”
In a settlement, the city of Philadelphia has agreed to reform its civil asset forfeiture program, and pay $3 million to people whose property had been unfairly seized. The lawsuit was filed by the Institute for Justice, which called the city’s program “one of the worst civil forfeiture schemes in America.” Officials agreed to increased judicial supervision, stronger notification procedures for defendants and limits on the seizure of cash and property. The settlement also bans the district attorney’s office and police department from using forfeiture revenue to fund payroll. But the reforms aren’t universal: District Attorney Larry Krasner said future forfeitures would “generally” require a conviction, and would be targeted toward assets that were used as instruments of the crime or were profits of committing the crime.
September 7, 2018
“We believe that a cornerstone of the effort to reduce recidivism rests upon ensuring that, upon their release, inmates have the tools they need to succeed as self-sufficient and independent citizens…”
The Pennsylvania State Agency Financial Exchange, or PA $AFE, is a partnership of the Department of Corrections and Department of Banking and Securities to help provide returning citizens with financial education. The pilot program is designed to be scalable and sustainable and provide up-to-date, real-world training. In evaluating the program, Corrections Secretary John Wetzel and Banking and Securities Secretary Robin Wiessmann said they were tracking outcome measurements, including differences in recidivism rates, successful employment, and financial engagement, including opening a bank account or starting a business.
August 3, 2018
“These challenges may appear overwhelming, but many states are using innovative approaches to tackle them and are achieving results.”
The Council of State Governments Justice Center introduced a new website, the 50-State Report on Public Safety, which features more than 300 data visualizations comparing crime, recidivism and state correctional practices. Highlighted innovations come from all 50 states, including Ohio’s Crisis Intervention Teams, Pennsylvania’s use of performance-based contracts for halfway houses, and New Mexico’s first-in-the-nation requirement that all local and state law enforcement officers carry naloxone.
July 13, 2018
“The checks perpetuate discrimination, without persuasive evidence that a criminal background predicts risky behavior on the job.”
Since 2016, 14 states have revised licensing requirements for those with criminal records or started tracking licensing rejections that are based on criminal records. After the licensing board overseeing Pennsylvania barbers added a question about criminal history to their application, the number of barber and barber manager licenses granted dropped by almost 25%, and the number of certifications going to trainees in the Department of Correction’s training program dropped significantly. In June, Governor Tom Wolf proposed abolishing 13 licensing boards, including those overseeing natural hair braiders and barbers.
June 29, 2018
“People who make mistakes, but turn their lives around, deserve a fresh start. And automatic record sealing ensures a fresh start opportunity is available to all Pennsylvanians, regardless of their economic circumstances.”
Pennsylvania became the first state in the country to pass Clean Slate legislation, automatically sealing the records of people convicted of second- and third-degree misdemeanors who had completed their sentences and gone ten years without a subsequent arrest, prosecution or conviction. The bill was backed by a bipartisan coalition including the Center for American Progress and FreedomWorks, and was championed by Representatives Sheryl Delozier and Jordan Harris, and Senators Anthony Williams and Scott Wagner.
June 29, 2018
“We believe that shedding light on state compassionate release programs is the first step to improving them.”
Families Against Mandatory Minimums released a report this week on the state of compassionate release programs across the country. They found a patchwork of policies, with incomplete, inconsistent and incoherent guidelines and rules. 25 states, including Arizona, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Tennessee, have unclear or insufficient guidance surrounding their compassionate release programs for elderly incarcerated people, and Iowa has no formal compassionate release program at all. The report includes 21 policy recommendations to expand, improve, and publicize programs.
June 22, 2018
“People who choose to learn from their mistakes and want to live productive lives should be able to do just that.”
Pennsylvania’s Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved Clean Slate legislation that had previously been passed by the House. The bill would automatically seal the records of those who had committed certain misdemeanors and gone 10 years without another offense. The measure has strong bipartisan support in both chambers, and the backing of business, organized labor, and district attorneys from across the commonwealth.
June 15, 2018
"They have experience, and that experience lessens the stigma of their criminal record."
In Pennsylvania’s Cambridge Springs women’s prison, incarcerated women make more than 15,000 pairs of eyeglasses per year, and can train to become certified opticians. Cambridge Springs is home to the only accredited prep course for optician certification in the commonwealth, and the program has a 200-person waiting list. Women in the program learn to use and repair every machine in the eyeglass-making process, perform prescription calculations in computers and by hand, and write a resume.
May 18, 2018
“We decided we need to do something for the veterans in our facility and prepare them for a successful re-entry into society.”
The newly-designated veterans cell block at Pennsylvania’s Allegheny County jail will provide specialized services including treatment for addiction and post-traumatic stress, as well as assistance with the Veterans Administration health care system. Officials said placing the veterans together would make specialized services more efficient, and increase safety at the jail.
April 13, 2018
“We need to work to make our criminal justice system more fair, more equitable, and more focused on rehabilitation.”
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf outlined a package of eight reforms, including comprehensive clean slate legislation, funding of indigent defense programs, and the adoption of bail and pretrial risk assessment tools across the Commonwealth. He was joined at a press conference by Senator Stewart Greenleaf, and Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel. The announcement comes just as Representative Sheryl Delozier’s Clean Slate bill was passed by the state House of Representatives with an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 188-2 and goes to the Senate, which unanimously passed similar legislation last year.
March 30, 2018
“A dollar spent on imprisonment should be worth it.”
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner has asked city prosecutors to include the cost of incarceration in sentencing recommendations. The typical cost of imprisonment in Philadelphia is $42,000 per year, and housing the city’s prisoners will cost $2.4 billion for fiscal year 2018.
February 23, 2018
“It is time for us as a criminal justice system to do better.”
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner announced this week that his office would no longer seek cash bail for people accused of some misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies. Right now, 20% of the people in Philadelphia’s city jails are being held because they had not posted bail, which Krasner previously called “imprisonment for poverty.” In the Philadelphia Inquirer, R Street’s Arthur Rizer and Alyse Ullery argued that conservatives should support Krasner’s reforms, including ending the misuse of civil asset forfeiture, and seeking alternatives to incarceration.
January 26, 2018
"The only way these issues will get solved is to fight together.”
NFL Players and owners announced the “Let’s Listen Together” campaign, which will publicize the players’ work on social and racial equality. Players Coalition leader Anquan Boldin said the collaboration should be celebrated, “as it’s the first professional league or entity that has taken the concerns of its players and put resources behind it." In the New York Times, the Philadelphia Eagles’ Malcolm Jenkins talked about balancing his work on criminal justice reform in Pennsylvania and Ohio with a season leading to next weekend’s Super Bowl.
November 21, 2017
“The charges were either dropped or dismissed, but the judge sent him to prison anyway." Meek Mill’s case put a spotlight on problems in the probation system, and activists are seizing the moment. “The public attention to Meek Mill’s case is an opportunity for all of us to demand broader reforms of our unjust criminal justice system.”