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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2017 - 2018 Regular Session


Posted: December 8, 2016 10:22 AM
From: Senator Vincent J. Hughes
To: All Senate members
Subject: Legislative Racial Impact Statements
In the near future, I will be reintroducing SB424 from last session which would give legislators the ability to request that the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing prepare a racial impact statement for any legislative measures that would amend the Crimes Code (Title 18) or Judicial Code (Title 42) prior to its final consideration by the Senate or House of Representatives.

Similar to the utilization of fiscal notes for measures that require the expenditure of Commonwealth funds, racial impact statements would serve as an additional piece of information that would help the General Assembly make more informed decisions prior to casting a vote on a bill. The racial impact statement would describe the potential impact of the proposed legislative changes to state criminal law or sentencing law on the racial and ethnic composition of our criminal offender population and/or the juvenile court system.

It is no secret that our nation’s prison population is disproportionately represented by minorities. According to a report released in 2013 year by the Sentencing Project, racial/ethnic disparities concerning incarceration in the United States remain significant --- in 2011, the last year for which applicable data was available, African-Americans and Latinos constituted roughly 60% of imprisoned persons while whites only constituted 35%.

The most recent figures for PA’s prison population are similar, with African-Americans and Latino’s making up 60% of the state’s total prison population while whites only constitute 39%. The rate of incarceration for Latino individuals is roughly 4 times greater than white individuals, and the rate of incarceration for African-Americans is 9 times greater than that of white individuals.

Many of the legislative measures we propose have the potential to exacerbate these disparities. This is principally due to the fact that such measures can adversely impact one segment of our population more than others. However, it is my belief that racial impact statements would provide an effective mechanism for analyzing the true scope and unforeseen ramifications of our proposals.

As many of you are aware, there is an effort afoot in state legislatures across the country to institute the use of racial impact statements as a means of examining the consequences of legislative proposals prior to their adoption. Oregon, Iowa and Connecticut all require racial impact statements before lawmakers can vote on any new criminal laws. Minnesota’s sentencing commission also regularly drafts racial impact statements for new legislation. Many other states are also examining similar proposals.

I believe it is time for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to take this important step towards addressing racial disparity within our criminal justice system.

Previous cosponsors include Fontana and Leach.

I hope you will join me in co-sponsoring this legislation. If you have any questions, please contact Zach Ross at 3-1217 (zross@pasenate.com) or my Chief Counsel, Michael Deery, at 7-7112 (mdeery@pasenate.com) in my office.

Introduced as SB206