A blog of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section

This year’s budget battle enters into its home stretch when the House and Senate return to session on June 4.   Legislative leaders hope to pass the budget by June 13.  The deadline for passage is June 30.

Senate confirms Gary Tennis as first Secretary of Drug and Alcohol Programs

Gary Tennis, former Chief of Legislation in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, has been confirmed by the Senate to be the first Secretary of Drug and Alcohol Programs.

Tennis served as executive director of the President’s Commission on Model State Drug Laws in 1993.  He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Tulsa and his law degree from the University of Pennsylvania.

The Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs was set up under Act 50 of 2010.  Among the Department’s first tasks will be to establish a plan for the management and allocation of state and Federal funds used to oversee alcohol and drug prevention, intervention and treatment services.

Senate Bill 817 (Baker-R-Luzerne) is on the Governor’s desk awaiting action.  The bill would limit the circumstances under which a child could be restrained by shackles, handcuffs or straitjacket during a hearing.  Restraints could be used only after the court conducts a hearing in which the child is able to speak.  Restraints would be allowed (1) to protect the child or another; (2) to prevent disruptive behavior where there is a likelihood based on previous conduct; and (3) where there is a likelihood of escape.  Click for summary and fiscal note.

House Bill 804 (Masser-R-Columbia) passed the Senate and was sent back to the House for concurrence on amendments.  The bill would excuse from jury service persons who had served 18 months on a state-wide investigating grand jury.

House Bill 2331 (Stephens-R-Montgomery) passed the House and was sent to the Senate.  The bill provides for five year mandatory sentences–without work release, pre-release, furlough or parole–for prior convicts convicted of possessing a firearm.  Click for summary and House fiscal note.

Governor backs prison study to cut costs and strengthen corrections system

Click for report website

www.mcall.com/news/nationworld/pennsylvania/mc-pa-prison-reform-0524-20120523,0,7917008.story

By Peter Jackson, Of The Associated Press

9:59 PM EDT, May 23, 2012

 HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania could save tens of millions of dollars a year by reserving state prison beds for criminals convicted of the most serious crimes and serving longer terms and by diverting more low-level offenders to other programs, consultants said in a report released Wednesday.

The report by the Council of State Governments says decreasing reliance on prison space would shrink the prison population by thousands of inmates and save $350 million over five years. Further, it says only a quarter of that amount would be needed to finance the changes it recommends elsewhere in the system, such as dedicating the community corrections centers for prisoners nearing parole.

Pennsylvania is one of 16 states participating in the council’s justice-reinvestment initiative, designed to help states reduce prison spending and enhance public safety. The U.S. Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance and the Pew Center on the States financed the research.

Council researchers spent months working with state officials to analyze data about Pennsylvania’s criminal justice system. Their report won a vote of confidence Wednesday from a working group that includes state officials, legislators, judges and prosecutors.

Gov. Tom Corbett called the proposals “very logical” and said he wants lawmakers to pass the council recommendations by June before they break for their summer recess.

“We have a finite amount of money and an infinite amount of requests for that money,” the Republican said in brief remarks to the panel.

Authors of the report said the state’s correctional system faces serious challenges, including an inefficient parole process that keeps many inmates in prison even after they are approved for parole, and sentencing practices that result in thousands of short-term inmates cycling in and out of prison before they can benefit from programs that could make them less likely to commit future crimes.

The Corrections Department budget is nearing $2 billion with a prison population of 51,000 inmates — more than six times the 1980 total — and a recidivism rate of about 43 percent.

Among the recommendations in the “justice reinvestment” report:

•Revamp the state-run community-corrections centers — a $100 million network of intensive residential facilities with a capacity of 4,400 beds — to hold inmates who are being released on parole or punish parolees who commit technical violations. Prisoners who have not been approved for parole could no longer be assigned to the community facilities.

•Require offenders convicted of low-level misdemeanors to be sentenced to non-prison sanctions, such as local incarceration or probation.

•Use grants to reward counties that divert offenders serving short terms from prison and strengthen their probation and parole departments.

•Increase grants to police departments for developing creative responses to law enforcement and for supporting statewide initiatives that benefit all departments, such as new approaches to training.

•Increase the number of parole case interviews by 20 percent from the current 1,800 a month to nearly 2,200 by 2015.

Tony Fabelo, research director for the council’s Justice Project, briefed the panelists on the recommendations and stressed that they are inter-related and should be considered collectively.

“This is a package deal,” he said.

Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman and an outspoken advocate for corrections reform, said the package would promote rehabilitation while preserving tough penalties for crime. He said he thinks it’s possible the package could be passed before the recess.

“I know it will be well received in the Senate,” said the Montgomery County Republican, a member of the panel. “With the governor’s support, I believe we can get it through the House.”

Corrections Secretary John Wetzel noted that the Republican and Democratic caucuses in both the House and Senate are represented on the working group. “This is not a new issue to them,” he said. But “Obviously, the devil is in the details.”

Pennsylvania is one of 16 states participating in the council’s justice-reinvestment initiative, designed to help states reduce prison spending while enhancing public safety. The research is financed by the U.S. Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance and the Pew Center on the States.

The Free Student Research Center is now OPEN. It will be open on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, from 9AM to 3PM. The Free Student Research Center is available for use by attorneys who are current members of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section and who are court-appointed to the case for which they seek research (either state or CJA!). The Free Student Research Center is located in the Jack Myers Memorial Lounge on the Third Floor of the CJC.

You may make a research request in person or via the Criminal Justice Section website at http://www.philadelphiabar.org/page/CJResearch?appNum=1

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