State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

Ongoing justice system review highlights problem areas

Written by Katie Meyer, Capitol Bureau Chief | Jul 20, 2016 9:08 PM
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State Department Corrections Secretary John Wetzel explains the review process. (Photo by Katie Meyer/WITF)

(Harrisburg) -- A nonpartisan group reviewing the Pennsylvania Justice System is releasing data on some of the biggest issues it has found.

The group, from the Council of State Governments Justice Center, is working with lawmakers at the request of the commonwealth to make the system more efficient.

State Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel says key issues are the state's high incarceration and recidivism rates.

"How can we better supervise people so we are getting better outcomes?" he asked. "So people leave and are not coming back by either committing new crimes, or by violating terms of their parole."

Josh Shapiro, chairman of the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, says any changes would have to be comprehensive.

"Here in Pennsylvania we have the third highest rate of adults under correctional control among all the states in the union," he said. "73% of Pennsylvania's total correctional control population is under probation or parole, and there's real question as to whether or not that system is working."

Several potential policy changes were suggested that could lower prison population, such as providing counties with more state guidance and funding for pretrial services and probation.

The report indicates that another key issue driving high incarceration is Pennsylvania's status as the only state not to contribute funding to counties for indigent defense--that is, lawyers for accused who can't afford them.

The CSG Justice Center group says it's about halfway through its review. It plans to offer final recommendations for a criminal justice overhaul by the end of the year.

Published in State House Sound Bites

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