Gov. Wolf announces Pa. prison population lowest in 20 years

Local News

HARRISBURG — On Thursday, Governor Tom Wolf announced that as of Oct. 1, the number of people incarcerated in state correctional facilities is 36,743, which is the lowest total since 2001.

The population total shows the population has decreased by more than 8,300 individuals since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. 

“My administration has taken a comprehensive approach to reducing the prison population, with an emphasis on rehabilitation for men and women who are incarcerated and opportunities after incarceration, and I’m proud of our successful efforts while ensuring public safety,” Governor Wolf said. “Most individuals who are incarcerated will be released at some point, so investing in resources and creating good policies ensures lower incarceration rates, a reduction in recidivism, and a better, more productive quality of life for re-entrants.​”

This summer, the DOC launched an interactive dashboard that allows users to track the state prison population, the number of people under parole supervision and other key data over the past 20 y ears. The dashboard also provides context to the data, such as racial disparities that persist within the incarcerated population.   

“Bipartisan support from the Wolf Administration and state legislators — particularly the Justice Reinvestment Working Group — has created an environment that allows the DOC to work toward decarceration,” said Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Acting Secretary (DOC) Acting Secretary George Little, who noted that people of color represent 70 percent of the Pennsylvania prison population reduction since 2015. “Reducing the number of incarcerated individuals allows the DOC to focus on providing much needed mental health, drug treatment, and other services to the remaining incarcerated population.” 

During the pandemic, DOC staff has expedited furloughs of parolees from centers to home plans, coordinated with the parole board to maximize parole releases, reviewed parole detainers for those in county jails and state prisons, expedited the release process for reentrants with a pending approved home plan and implemented a temporary reprieve program.

In recent years, the commonwealth has: 

  • Created a partnership developed by the departments of Human Services and Corrections to help people who are being released with opioid use disorder (OUD) treatmen.
  • Signed more than 1,500 pardons to date for people with nonviolent marijuana possession or paraphernalia convictions. 
  • Granted 38 commutations, including 13 commutations in February 2021, for people who were sentenced to life. 
  • Passed Justice Reinvestment 2 addressing the high cost of incarceration in the state.
  • Created a Fair-Chance hiring policy for state agencies that removes the criminal conviction question, otherwise known as “banning the box,” from non-civil service employment applications for agencies under the governor’s jurisdiction. 
  • Signed the “Clean Slate” bill, the first of its kind in the nation, to help those who have committed low-level offenses and have paid their penalty get back on the path to a blemish-free record. 
  • Signed Act 95 of 2018, eliminating driver’s license suspensions for non-driving infractions. 
  • Signed Act 146 of 2018, extending the time a convicted individual has to file a post-conviction relief action to one year, instead of 60 days under current law. 
  • Signed Act 147 of 2018, updating Pennsylvania’s DNA testing law to remove the supervision requirement that only people serving a sentence can apply for DNA testing. 
  • Signed Act 148 of 2018, a victim protection bill regarding housing options and emergency transfers. 

For more information on the DOC, click HERE.

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