Pennsylvania is believed to have the highest incarceration rate in the northeast, and state lawmakers are trying to tackle that issue with new legislation.

Senators on both sides of the aisle are passing legislation that would keep people convicted of non-violent crimes from staying behind bars longer than necessary.  Erie County President Judge John Trucilla says the courts have to find the balance in an interesting equation. 

Trucilla tells us, “Always, I think we have to be cognizant as a court to be as efficient and fair as possible.”  This sentiment shared by Pennsylvania lawmakers.  

The State Senate unanimously passed three bills aimed at releasing nonviolent offenders more quickly and offering more resources to convicts. The legislation marks Phase Two of the PA Justice Reinvestment Initiative. 

Senator Dan Laughlin says when you’re leading the nation in incarcerations, you need to evaluate what you’re doing. “If you’re spending 50-thousand a year to keep someone incarcerated, you save that money up front if they’re out but also if they’re back to work, they’re contributing to the payroll, taxes and different things as a functioning member of society.” 

Trucilla says local leadership has been on board with these kinds of initiatives to have a positive influence on the community.  “Erie has always been ahead of the curve as far as initiatives to get individuals who are non-violent that maybe should be released on other programs.”

A few examples of this are Erie County’s Veterans Court, Drug Treatment Court, and; most recently; County Council’s push to create a Day Reporting Center. 

Lawmakers say releasing non-violent offenders from prison sooner rather than later could save $20-30 million.  The goal is for that money to be spent in county probation offices.  The bills are waiting on approval from the Pennsylvania House to move forward.