Governor Tom Wolf Calls For Criminal Justice Reform

The governor outlined a package of eight reform initiatives

Shelby Cassesse
April 13, 2018 - 10:41 am
Governor Tom Wolf announces criminal justice reform initiatives.

Photo By: Commonwealth Media Services


PITTSBURGH (Newsradio 1020 KDKA) - Governor Tom Wolf called for lawmakers to implement criminal justice reform in Pennsylvania, alongside Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel and Senator Stewart Greenleaf. 

The governor outlined a package of eight reform initiatives focused on consistency and uniformity in the system. They include: 

  • 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.

Some of the initiates, like the Clean Slate Bill, are already moving through the legislature with bipartisan support. While advocates have seen success in recent months, there is still heavy opposition from some GOP lawmakers on various criminal justice reform issues. 

Governor Wolf said it's about making the system fairer, more equitable and more focused on rehabilitation. 

“The debate about how we can fix our criminal justice system is complicated, and over time that debate has changed to reflect the modern realities and issues present in our system,” he said at a press conference Thursday. “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.”

Pennsylvania lawmakers passed criminal justice reform legislation in 2012, resulting in a reduction of the state inmate population by over 3,300 inmates and a savings of over $400 million for the state.