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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2021 - 2022 Regular Session


Posted: December 7, 2020 10:47 AM
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 1197 from the 2019-2020 legislative session. The bill would allow a member of the General Assembly to request a racial impact statement on any piece of legislation proposing changes to the crimes and offenses in Title 18 or the sentencing laws in Title 42.
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. Similar to the use of fiscal notes to analyze bills that may impact Commonwealth and local funds, a racial impact statement would be another tool 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 the proposed legislative changes would have on the racial and ethnic composition of our criminal offender population and/or the juvenile court system.

While some improvements have been made, it is still 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 2019, individuals classified as Black and Hispanic constituted roughly 54% of imprisoned persons while whites constituted 33%. 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 even though 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.

Notably, there is an effort nationwide 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 SB79