Prison reform advocates are getting legislative help from an unlikely source.
Republican State Sen. Stewart Greenleaf is reintroducing his package of alternative sentencing reforms this legislative session, and getting help from Democrats.
Greenleaf, who represents parts of Bucks and Montgomery counties, was the author of mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders. But the state’s exploding prison population changed his mind.
Among other reforms, including more money for treatment programs, parole and probation, Senate Bill 100 would give judges discretion to go below the minimum in some cases.
“There are people that commit crimes. They belong in jail. And maybe for the rest of their lives,” he says. “But we’re dealing with the vast majority of the people that are causing this prison overcrowding are nonviolent offenders, and we’re just wasting our money.”
Democratic Auditor General Jack Wagner has come out in support of the measure. His new report on Pennsylvania prisons shows at least 40 percent of inmates are non-violent offenders, and that incarcerating one prisoner costs 33 thousand dollars a year.
“We need to take nonviolent offenders and get them better treatment programs instead of them becoming hardened criminals within the state correctional system,” says Wagner.
Greenleaf says the bill has an upfront price tag of about $50 million . It’s up for a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee.