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Gov. Wolf unveils new criminal justice reform measures

Gov. Tom Wolf, state Corrections Secretary John Wetzel and numerous advocacy groups were on-hand Thursday to introduce new criminal justice reform measures. (PROVIDED)

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Gov. Tom Wolf, state Corrections Secretary John Wetzel and numerous advocacy groups were on-hand Thursday to introduce new criminal justice reform measures.

“I believe that we can improve the criminal justice system, so that we can protect victims while also ending a cycle of incarceration that has left so many people feeling trapped, helpless, and without an opportunity to return to society after they have been released,” said Wolf.

The plan includes eight initiatives that are outlined below:

Justice Reinvestment Initiatives (JRI2), which seek to provide for fair sentencing, increase parole supervision and use of community-based programs, among other reforms.

Bail and Pre-Trial Reforms to ensure that everyone has a right to a fair trial and that risk assessment tools are consistent across the commonwealth.

Post-Conviction Relief Act Expansion to reduce time sensitivity by increasing awareness of when rights expire so defendants can make an informed plea decision. Currently if a defendant pleads guilty, they are foreclosed from post-conviction relief; this needs to change so all defendants, regardless of plea, may attempt to prove their innocence.

Review/Implement the Goals of the Sentencing Commission, which include adopting a standardized, single assessment tool model used from pre-trial until parole completion.

Probation/Parole Revocation and Resentencing to create uniformity in probation revocation procedures and ensure a correlation between risk and probation lengths, resulting in better supervision.

Comprehensive Clean Slate Legislation currently being considered in the General Assembly and the first step in establishing a much more comprehensive clean slate law in the commonwealth to provide an opportunity for persons convicted of greater offenses, including felony convictions, to reenter the community with success.

Indigent Defense is a critical part of the system that can have a large impact on volume, cost, and human effects and is needed in Pennsylvania to ensure the independence and quality of counsel under the Sixth Amendment.

Stepping Up Initiative, which was launched statewide in April 2017 and via summit in December 2017 along with a data-driven project by Dauphin County to examine its criminal justice system, with the goal of reducing the number of people who have serious mental illnesses in the county prison. The findings from that project will be made public at the end of this month and will be used to develop policy and programming recommendations.

“Since the landmark passage of criminal justice reform legislation in 2012, following our first round with the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, we have reduced our inmate population by over 3,300 inmates, seen a sharp decline in the recidivism rate and saved the state over $400 million," said state Sen. Stewart Greenleaf.

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