HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Wolf was joined on Thursday by other legislators and advocacy groups in a “call-to-action” for criminal justice reforms that Wolf said are long overdue and necessary to provide consistency and uniformity in the system.
“The debate about how we can fix our criminal justice system is complicated, and over time the debate has changed to reflect the modern realities and issues present in our system,” Wolf said. “I believe that we can improve the criminal justice system, so that we can protect victims while also ending a cycle of incarceration that has left so many people feeling trapped, helpless, and without an opportunity to return to society after they have been released.”
Wolf continues to advocate for policies that would increase safety, support victims of crime, and reduce costs. This includes the Justice Reinvestment Initiates (JRI), introduced last year, that were designed to save the state from spending an additional $108 million in corrections costs over the next five years.
The JRI is one of a package of reforms the governor outlined. Other initiatives include bail and pre-trial reforms aimed at ensuring the right to a fair trial, and the expansion of the Post–Conviction Relief Act, which is aimed at increasing awareness of when rights expire so that defendants can make an informed plea decision.
Among those joining Wolf were Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel and Sen. Steward J. Greenleaf, the Senate Judiciary Committee chair, and a vocal advocate for criminal justice reform.
“At one time, Pennsylvania had a 65 percent recidivism rate — that is a failed system,” Greenleaf said. “Since the landmark passage of the criminal justice reform legislation in 2012, following our first round with the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, we have reduced our inmate population by over, 3,300 inmates, seen a sharp decline in the recidivism rate and saved the state more than $400 million. While we have made great progress in recent years reversing the unintended consequences of the past, there are still great injustices built into the system that must be rectified.”
“We need to do the work to make our criminal justice system fairer, more equitable, and more focused on rehabilitation,” Wolf added. “Since I became governor, I have worked hard to reform our system so that it leads to better outcomes and saves taxpayers’ dollars — while also leading to less crime and fewer victims.”