Below are three documents that explore facts about sentencing. Click on each one to view the charts:
We have the greatest system of justice in the world. The Bill of Rights, since the 1960s, has been made applicable by the United States Supreme Court, to every criminal prosecution in every state, regardless of where. However, the excessively harsh laws passed in the three decades following the said rights being afforded everywhere, have been passed in retaliation, tipping the pendulum out of kilter. We’ve got to bring it back. For instance, 30 years have passed since the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing was created in 1982. Remarkably, the Commission's guideline ranges for sentencing have been followed in our criminal justice system as if gospel; 90% of all sentences in Pennsylvania have been consistent with the commission's guidelines.
Who does the sentencing: Judges or the sentencing comission?
Immediately our prisons began to overflow. Just two years after the Pennsylvania Sentencing Commission became effective in 1984, we began a prison construction epidemic unparalleled in our history. In the next 14 years, 16 new state prisons were opened in Pennsylvania compared to only 11 before, in the 160 years since the first one was constructed.
Mandatory Minimum Sentences
In addition to the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing controlling judicial sentencing, the other branches of government have granted unprecedented power to all district attorneys in Pennsylvania. Ours is an adversarial system, where both sides (the prosecutor and the defense) present their strongest case to the fact finder to determine justice. Shockingly one for the adversarial parties, the district attorney after his argument and presentation of evidence can then make the sentencing judge impose a mandatory minimum sentence.
There's a Monster on the Loose
All of this has created an out-of-control monster where more people are sentenced to state prisons for non-violent offenses (especially drugs) than for all of the violent crimes of murder, robbery, rape, aggravated assault, sexual assault, and arson combined.
We Simply Can't Afford the Cost
Pennsylvania is broke, yet we just built three new prisons and renovated 17 existing ones to construct 12,000 new cells at a cost of nearly $2 billion. This is in addition to the annual budget of $2 billion just to maintain the current state prison system.
My point is that you, the educated and informed voter, must tell your elected officials how the criminal justice system is in need of repair and demand that it be made right. Before sentencing began to be controlled by the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing, we only had 7,500 inmates in state prison each year since 1940. In 1982, the number began to grow to more than 52,000 today. I repeat, in the entire Pennsylvania Department of Corrections we went from 7,500 inmates per year, every year, from 1940 to 1980 to more than 50,000 inmates per year over the last five years. Prison population is currently projected to increase to more than 60,000 state inmates by 2015.
A Call For Action
We need to take the steps to disband the Pennsylvania Comission on Sentencing and eliminate the mandatory sentences. I ask the voters to demand that sentencing be returned to the people you elected to do just that.
Jeffrey K. Sprecher