State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
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Admin clashing with lawmakers, advocates over mandatory minimums

Written by Katie Meyer, Capitol Bureau Chief | Apr 4, 2017 4:48 AM

Lebanon County District Attorney Dave Arnold--who is also president of the state District Attorneys Association--speaks at a pro-mandatory minimum rally at the Capitol. (Photo by Katie Meyer/WITF)

(Harrisburg) -- A substantial part of the state legislature wants to reinstate laws that let prosecutors push for harsh, mandatory minimum prison sentences in certain crimes.

But others--including the Governor Tom Wolf and his head of corrections--oppose such a move because they say it won't actually cut down on crime.

The conflict originated in 2015, when the state Supreme Court ruled most of the commonwealth's mandatory minimum sentences unconstitutional.

Since then many lawmakers, the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, and groups like the Crime Victims Alliance of Pennsylvania have been trying to get them back.

Speaking at the Crime Victims Alliance's annual event in the Capitol, Lebanon County District Attorney Dave Arnold said that's the smartest move.

"Mandatory minimums, as a fact, remove the most dangerous criminals from our streets," he said.

Republican Representative Todd Stephens of Montgomery County, who sponsored the bill, elaborated in a phone interview.

"Mandatory minimums came into being in the 1980s, and the 1990s saw the most dramatic reduction in crime that we've seen in a generation," he said.

But opponents like Corrections Department Secretary John Wetzel interpret the situation--and the data--differently.

"Every study we've done on this shows no enhancement of public safety by using mandatories," he said, adding that keeping criminals in prison longer is a drain on resources for the already-beleaguered Corrections Department.

A proposal to reinstate the minimum is slated for a House vote this week, and is expected to pass.

It's unclear how it'll fare in the Senate. Governor Tom Wolf has said he strongly opposes it.

Published in News, State House Sound Bites

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