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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2019 - 2020 Regular Session


Posted: June 8, 2020 03:59 PM
From: Senator Vincent J. Hughes and Sen. Maria Collett
To: All Senate members
Subject: Racial Impact Statements
In the near future, we will be reintroducing Senate Bill 206 (2017-2018). The bill would allow a member of the General Assembly to request a racial impact statement on any piece of legislation.
Although this legislation has been introduced in the past, current events continue to highlight the need for racial impact statements. Too often we discuss and review policies and legislation in a vacuum.  A racial impact statement, similar to the utilization of fiscal notes for measures that require the expenditure of Commonwealth funds, 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 figures from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, racial/ethnic disparities concerning incarceration in the United States remain significant --- as of 2018, the last year for which applicable data is available, individuals classified as Black and Hispanic constituted roughly 56% of imprisoned persons while whites only constituted 30%. As of the most recent Pennsylvania data, Black and Hispanic individuals comprise 56% of the state correctional institution population while whites only constitute 43%. These disparities exist despite the fact that white individuals comprise a considerably larger portion of the national and state populations.

Many of the legislative measures we propose have the potential to exacerbate these disparities. A 2016 report from the Sentencing Project identified three recurrent explanations for racial disparities in state imprisonment: policies and practices; implicit bias and stereotypes; and structural disadvantages. It is our 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. According to the Sentencing Project, five states – Iowa, Connecticut, Florida, Oregon and New Jersey – have implemented mechanisms for preparation and consideration of racial impact studies. Minnesota has adopted racial impact studies through their Sentencing Guidelines Commission as opposed to through legislation. At least 8 other states have racial impact study legislation pending before their General Assembly. 

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

We hope you will join us in co-sponsoring this legislation. If you have any questions, please contact either of our offices. 

Introduced as SB1197