Prison 2021

Harrisburg, Pa. -- Current declines in the prison population are a result of statewide efforts. Collaborations between community rehabilitation centers, correctional facilities, and state government have led to record lows in the state prison population. 

According to a release from the Department of Corrections (DOC), the population stands at 36,743 as of Oct. 1. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a reduction of more than 8,300 inmates in the system, according the release. 

"My administration has taken a comprehensive approach to reducing the prison population, with an emphasis on rehabilitation for men and women who are incarcerated and opportunities after incarceration, and I'm proud of our successful efforts while ensuring public safety," Governor Tom Wolf said.

"Most individuals who are incarcerated will be released at some point, so investing in resources and creating good policies ensures lower incarceration rates, a reduction in recidivism, and a better, more productive quality of life for re-entrants." 

During the pandemic, DOC staff has expedited furloughs of paroles from centers to home plans, coordinated with the parole board to maximize parole releases, reviewed parole detainers for those in county jails and state prisons, expedited the release process for re-entrants with a pending approved home plan, and implemented a temporary reprieve program – all with a goal of safety for the staff, incarcerated individuals, and the community. 

This summer, the DOC launched an interactive dashboard that allows users to track the state prison population, the number of people under parole supervision, recidivism and other key data over the past 20 years. The dashboard also provides context to the data, highlighting racial disparities that persist within the incarcerated population. 

Pennsylvania has taken a bipartisan approach to criminal justice reform and in recent years has:

  • Created a partnership developed by the departments of Human Services and Corrections that will better connect people who are being released from state correctional institutions with opioid use disorder (OUD) treatment by connecting them to treatment through one of Pennsylvania's Centers of Excellence (COE).
  • Signed more than 1,500 pardons to date, more than any other governor in more than 20 years, including 95 pardons related to the Expedited Review Program for Non-Violent Marijuana-Related Offenses, a program introduced by the Board of Pardons and authorized by Lt. Governor John Fetterman in September 2019 to speed up the pardons' application process for people with nonviolent marijuana possession or paraphernalia convictions.
  • Granted 38 commutations, more than any other governor in more than 40 years, including 13 commutations in February 2021, for people who were sentenced to life.
  • Passed Justice Reinvestment 2 addressing the high cost of incarceration in the state, strengthening support for county probation programs and fixing inadequate sentencing guidelines, and reforming the post-trial criminal justice system.
  • Created a Fair-Chance hiring policy for state agencies that removes the criminal conviction question, otherwise known as "banning the box," from non-civil service employment applications for agencies under the governor's jurisdiction.
  • Signed the "Clean Slate" bill, the first of its kind in the nation, to help those who have committed low-level offenses and have paid their penalty get back on the path to a blemish-free record, removing potential roadblocks to jobs, housing, health care, and education.
  • Signed Act 95 of 2018, eliminating driver's license suspensions for non-driving infractions.
  • Signed Act 146 of 2018, extending the time a convicted individual has to file a post-conviction relief action to one year, from what was 60 days under current law.
  • Signed Act 147 of 2018, updating Pennsylvania's DNA testing law to reflect significant advances in technology and the lessons learned by criminal justice professionals since 2002. The legislation removes the supervision requirement that only people serving a sentence can apply for DNA testing.
  • Signed Act 148 of 2018, a victim protection bill regarding housing options and emergency transfers.

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections oversees the operation of 23 state correctional institutions, one motivational boot camp, 14 community corrections centers, and nearly 40 contract facilities.

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This story was compiled by an NCPA staff reporter from submitted news. To see a list of our editorial staff please visit our staff directory.