Pennsylvania embarks on review of criminal justice system

     Montgomery County Commissioners Chairman Josh Shapiro will lead a new effort looking for ways to keep Pennsylvanians from entering the criminal justice system. (NewsWorks file photo)

    Montgomery County Commissioners Chairman Josh Shapiro will lead a new effort looking for ways to keep Pennsylvanians from entering the criminal justice system. (NewsWorks file photo)

    State and local government officials are going to school on Pennsylvania’s criminal justice system to cut costs and crime.

    A group of about three dozen people will spend the next year looking for ways to keep Pennsylvanians from entering the criminal justice system. The study aims to build on a review in 2011 that led to reforms credited with reducing the state’s prison population.

    “In the movie industry the only thing better than a successful first film is a blockbuster sequel,” said Tom Darr, Pennsylvania court administrator. “I think that’s what we’re looking for here.”

    The directors of this effort have a year to recommend changes to state law on issues such as sentencing, bail, and probation and parole policy.

    Pennsylvania is the jailingest state in the Northeast, and, unlike its neighbors, the commonwealth has seen its incarceration rates rise in the past decade, according to data provided by the nonpartisan Council of State Governments Justice Center. The organization is facilitating this latest review of Pennsylvania’s criminal justice system. The same group helped the commonwealth with its 2011 reform effort, and has also worked with other states.

    “We will be looking extensively at pretrial diversionary programs and practices which seek to divert offenders to alternatives to incarceration,” said Montgomery County Commissioners Chairman Josh Shapiro, chair of the Commission on Crime and Delinquency and also chair of the new working group.

    Funding for the review comes from The Pew Charitable Trusts and the federal government.

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