The Keystone State’s Justice Reinvestment

Writing for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Charles Mitchell and J.C. Watts, two self-styled tough on crime conservatives, say that years of pro-incarceration policies and sentences have created a “bloated, hugely expensive criminal-justice system” that “has produced disappointing results.”

The authors argue that the time is right for Pennsylvania to adopt reform measures in its criminal justice system. Although the state experienced its biggest one-year incarceration decline in 40 years in 2015, it still has the highest incarceration rate in the Northeast.

Furthermore, from 2004 to 2014, Pennsylvania’s incarceration rate rose by 20 percent, while the incarceration rate conversely fell in neighboring New York and New Jersey by similar margins.

Building on the progress from other states as well as previous reform measures in Pennsylvania, Mitchell and Watts argue for “justice reinvestment,” a data-driven approach that identifies trends in the criminal justice system that can be used to divert funds from corrections spending into programs that reduce recidivism and increase public safety.

Already, there have been promising returns on investment: In the period between when justice reinvestment was enacted in 2012 to 2015, Pennsylvania saved $13 million, of which $4 million was reinvested in public safety measures.

By reinvesting tax dollars away from incarceration and towards public safety, Pennsylvania not only saves money but improves the lives of citizens, victims, and restored citizens. The Keystone State should continue to implement such measures so that Pennsylvania’s citizens can become safer as well as free from wasteful policies that fail to improve public safety or rehabilitate prisoners.

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