HARRISBURG, June 15, 2012 — Senate Democrats today said that a prison reform measure swiftly moving through the legislature with bipartisan support is a solid step toward improving the corrections system and includes a number of ideas promoted by their caucus.

Senate Democrats said the initiatives they’ve pushed include increased programming for release for non-violent offenders to reduce technical parole violations, expediting programming for short-time non-violent offenders to help effectuate their timely release and aggressively utilizing alternative sentencing for non-violent offenders and the increased use of treatment programs.

State Sen. Shirley Kitchen, a longtime proponent of prison reform and second chance initiatives, has worked closely over the years with the bill’s prime sponsor, state Sen. Stewart Greenleaf (R-Montgomery) on promoting more sensible corrections policies.

“Building more prisons is not the answer. We must be smarter about corrections spending and use alternative sentencing for non-violent offenders so this legislation is a good step forward,” said Kitchen (D-Phila.). “The majority of prisoners will be released back into the public and they should have the tools to get a decent job, be productive members of society and stay out of jail.

“If we implement this reform correctly and use what is available in the plan regarding the management of non-violent prisoners as they are absorbed into society, then all taxpayers save money,” she said.

Senate Bill 100 offers several provisions to help reduce the prison population without risking the safety of the public. The bill makes more nonviolent offenders eligible for Pennsylvania’s alternative sentencing programs, including county intermediate punishment, state intermediate punishment, state motivational boot camp, and the recidivism risk reduction incentive.

The bill also establishes the Safe Community Reentry Program and requires the Department of Corrections to establish a comprehensive program to reduce recidivism and ensure the successful reentry and reintegration of offenders into the community.

Senate Bill 100 is back under consideration in the Senate after receiving unanimous approval, first in the Senate, then in the House with amendments.

“We need to shift our fundamental way of thinking when it comes to corrections. Too many incarcerated men and women can be monitored and reformed with alternative sentencing initiatives and smarter parole policies,” said state Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery), the Democratic chairman of the Judiciary Committee. “Measures like Senate Bill 100 will help Pennsylvania enact smarter and more cost-effective corrections practices that will ease spending without jeopardizing public safety.”

Senate Democrats are generally supportive of prison reforms and have sought over the years to make changes.

“As part of the Senate Democratic budget priorities this year, we outlined a detailed plan that would have lessened the burden on our prison system and reduced costs,” said state Sen. Jay Costa (D-Allegheny), the Democratic leader. “We believe that corrections reform dealing with non-violent offenders is a fundamental step toward reducing prison costs and recidivism. It will save taxpayer dollars in the long run.”

Costa served on the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing for many years. He was appointed to the commission in 1997. Sen. Leach currently serves on the commission.

State spending on corrections has exploded in the past three decades, from $185 million in 1985 to $1.8 billion this year. Since the Special Legislative Session on Crime in the mid-1990s, Pennsylvania’s prison population has nearly doubled.

“The Department of Corrections is the fourth largest recipient of spending in the state budget and spending has increased with the dramatic rise in the number of prisoners in the past few decades,” said state Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Phila.), the Democratic chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “It is common sense to enact reforms that ease overcrowding, reduce recidivism and provide non-violent offenders and ex-offenders with opportunities to move on a better path. The reforms offered in Senate Bill 100 are a solid step toward achieving those goals, and we must continue to seek innovative initiatives that will keep prison costs in check while maintaining public safety.”

The legislation passed the state House earlier in the week and now is headed back to the Senate for concurrence.

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