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Danger and Opportunity: Making Public Safety Job One in Pennsylvania's Indeterminate Sentencing System

NCJ Number
Justice Research and Policy Volume: 12 Issue: 1 Dated: 2010 Pages: 73-88
Mark H. Bergstrom; Joseph Sabino Mistick
Date Published
16 pages
This paper examines the effect of Pennsylvania's use of indeterminate senetencing on public safety.
Pennsylvania's prison population increased annually between 2000 and 2007 by an average of 3.2 percent. However, between 2007 and 2008, the change was 9.1 percent, the highest in the Nation and well above the national average of 0.8 percent. In 2008, the Pennsylvania General Assembly authorized $800 million for the construction of 4 new State correctional facilities; nonetheless, the Department of Corrections has contracted with county facilities to house about 500 State prisoners, and with other jurisdictions to transfer 2,000 inmates to facilities out of State. Both overcrowded facilities and reactionary policies to reduce overcrowding can have negative impacts on public safety. In an indeterminate sentencing system, efforts to maintain public safety within the constraints of correctional resources requires fundamental changes in sentencing practices and improved coordination with parole decisionmaking. In the fall of 2008, the Pennsylvania General Assembly enacted a comprehensive package of sentencing and corrections reform legislation, which added to the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing's existing duties the responsibilities of developing parole guidelines. The establishment of integrated guidelines, for consideration at sentencing and at parole, represents a major departure from the guideline practices of the last three decades in Pennsylvania. It requires a careful consideration of the role of retribution and prediction in the development of guidelines, the use of actuarial data to forecast future offending patterns, and the study of outcomes to determine the efficacy of sentencing and parole programs and practices. However, as has been demonstrated convincingly in other jurisdictions, when done correctly, public safety can be enhanced and correctional costs contained through a more thoughtful and coordinated use of these evidence-based approaches. References (Published Abstract)