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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2017 - 2018 Regular Session


Posted: June 28, 2017 04:39 PM
From: Senator Stewart J. Greenleaf
To: All Senate members
Subject: Urging Congress to Enact Criminal Justice Reform
I am introducing a resolution that urges the President of United States and the Congress of the United States to enact bipartisan legislation that would provide for criminal justice reform.

Despite recent reductions, the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, holding approximately 2.2 million people in prisons and jails on any given day, a 500% increase over the last 40 years. The federal prison population has increased from approximately 25,000 in FY 1980 to over 205,000 in FY 2015, an increase of 720% over that time period. The federal Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) budget has increased more than $7.1 billion from FY 1980 ($330 million) to FY 2016 ($7.479 billion). The growth in the federal prison population can be a detriment to the safety of staff and prisoners.

The number of federal statutory crimes has skyrocketed from 3,000 in the early 1980’s to more than 5,000 today. In addition, the number of Americans incarcerated for drug offenses has skyrocketed from 40,900 in 1980 to 469,545 in 2015. At the federal level, individuals incarcerated on a drug conviction make up nearly half the prison population.

In 2014, Congress established the Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections to conduct an independent assessment of the federal corrections system and identify the dynamic driving increases in the federal BOP’s population and costs and produce recommendations for lasting reforms. The Task Force issued its final report and recommendations in January 2016 and stated that “the dramatic prison population expansion was caused largely by drug and weapon offenses and by the mandatory minimum sentences that, beginning in the mid-1980s, dictated long prison terms for both types of crimes. Other contributors were the abolition of parole, federal limits on the use of ‘good conduct time’ and other credits to shorten sentences, and increased enforcement of immigration crimes.” The Task Force estimated that the federal government could lower BOP’s prison population by 60,000 and save $5 billion over the next several years by adopting their suggested reforms, which, in part, include reserving prison beds for the most serious federal crimes, promoting a culture of safety and rehabilitation in prison, ensuring successful reintegration by using evidence-based practices, and reinvesting savings to support necessary programs, supervision and treatment

The Congressional Research Service in May 2016 issued a report entitled “The Federal Prison Population Buildup: Options for Congress” which stated that “For example, Congress could consider options such as (1) modifying mandatory minimum penalties, (2) expanding the use of Residential Reentry Centers, (3) placing more offenders on probation, (4) reinstating parole for federal inmates, (5) expanding the amount of good time credit an inmate can earn, and (6) repealing federal criminal statutes for some offenses.”

States across the nation have instituted reforms aimed at making their criminal justice systems smarter, fairer, less costly and more efficient. Pennsylvania has enacted a number of criminal justice reforms, including a justice reinvestment initiative, which has resulted in the prison population declining by more than 2,000 over the past four years and the closing of one state correctional institution. While reforms have taken place at the state level, it doesn’t absolve Congress of the need to enact criminal justice reform at the federal level.

A number of criminal justice reform proposals (e.g., S. 2123 - Sentencing Reform & Corrections Act of 2015, H.R. 759 – Corrections & Recidivism Reduction Act of 2016, H.R. 2499 – SAFE Justice Reinvestment Act of 2015, H.R. 3713 - Sentencing Reform Act of 2015 and H.R. 4002 - Criminal Code Improvement Act of 2015) were introduced and some reported from committee during the 114th Congress (2015-16), which, in part, included reducing mandatory minimums sentences for nonviolent offenses and examining stronger recidivism reduction programs in federal prisons, but failed to be approved.

Copies of this resolution will be transmitted to the President of the United States, the presiding officers of each house of Congress and to each member of Congress from Pennsylvania.

Introduced as SR169