Mandatory minimum bill passes Pa. House, faces tougher odds in Senate

     The bill would give prosecutors back the power to push for longer sentences in certain cases. (AP Photo)

    The bill would give prosecutors back the power to push for longer sentences in certain cases. (AP Photo)

    The state House has passed a bill to keep certain drug and violent crime offenders in prison longer.The measure makes legal fixes to reinstate a number of mandatory minimum sentences, which were found unconstitutional in 2015 by the state Supreme Court. It comes as the commonwealth — and many other states — try to shrink prison populations.

    That was the angle many Democrats — like Philadelphia County’s Jordan Harris — took in their arguments against the bill on the House floor.

    “We don’t need mandatory minimums,” Harris said. “We’re going in the right direction as a commonwealth with regards to criminal justice reform. This takes us back to the draconian era.”

    The Corrections Department estimates the plan will cost up to $85 million, even as the agency struggles to cut spending.

    But the bill’s sponsor, Montgomery County Republican Representative Todd Stephens, said it’s worth the cost to make the commonwealth safer.

    “With the loss of mandatory minimums, the folks who are suppliers, who are out there supplying heroin, are getting less time and are back out on the street sooner,” he said in defense of the legislation.

    The measure is strongly opposed by Governor Tom Wolf and Corrections Secretary John Wetzel, who have both said longer sentences don’t reduce either crime or recidivism, citing a 2009 report from the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing.

    The measure now goes to the Senate, where it faces far more uncertain prospects.

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