In a unanimous vote, the Pennsylvania Senate continued the state’s national leadership on criminal justice reform by passing a three-bill reform package. These critical reforms will enhance public safety in the Keystone State by creating a fairer and more efficient criminal justice system.

“There is a bipartisan consensus that Pennsylvania’s criminal justice system needs to improve,” said Commonwealth Foundation Vice President Steve Bloom. “Last year, lawmakers and Gov. Wolf came together to pass the Clean Slate Act. Now, they are building on that momentum with a package of data-driven solutions that can help end Pennsylvania’s record of over-incarceration while making our communities safer.”

Pennsylvania has the highest incarceration rate in the region. In 2018, Pennsylvania prisons housed 47,430 inmates, costing $45,288 per inmate on average.

The smart-on-crime reforms passed today, Senate Bills 500, 501, and 502, are part of a movement to improve public safety and prioritize resources where they are most needed. The bills will:

Support County Probation

Nearly three-quarters of the state’s corrections population is on probation or parole, yet the vast majority of these cases are handled by county departments that lack guidance and funding. Consequently, Pennsylvania unnecessarily sends far too many people back to prison.

Indeed, one-third of state prison beds are filled by probation and parole violators—costing over $400 million annually.

SB 500 (sponsored by Sen. Lisa Baker) reinvests in county probation and parole departments, providing evidence-based guidance and training to ensure probationers become productive citizens, not permanent prisoners.

Enhance Sentencing Practices

Inconsistent sentencing guidance fosters overincarceration and limits individuals from accessing effective rehabilitation programs. Reforming sentencing and parole practices will ensure sentences match the crime, while protecting communities.

SB 501 (sponsored by Sen. Thomas Killion) improves sentencing guidelines to prioritize the most effective sentences and enhance access to drug treatment programs, which effectively reduce recidivism and save taxpayers approximately $33,700 per participant. It also provides automatic parole for individuals serving non-violent, short-term sentences—prioritizing resources for more serious offenders—and equips parole agents to more effectively deal with probation violations.

Expand Victim Support

Often, victims of crime never learn of their right to redress.

SB 502 (sponsored by Sens. Camera Bartolotta, Vincent Hughes, and Art Hayward) improves victim rights communication and expands eligibility requirements for victim compensation.

“Pennsylvania has proven itself to be a national leader on criminal justice reform,” continued Bloom. “And the improvements we’ve made over the last several years are working. Consequently, we are seeing senators from both parties stand side by side to pass laws that simultaneously improve public safety, decrease government spending, and make our justice system fairer. We encourage the House to do the same.”

For more detailed information on the Justice Reinvestment Initiative II read our recent overview of the proposal.

Commonwealth Foundation experts are available for comment. Please contact Michael Torres at 850-619-2737 or mbt@commonwealthfoundation.org to schedule an interview.