On October 27 Governor Ed Rendell signed a new law which will dramatically reduce the time parolees spend in prison for minor, technical violations of parole. Currently, forty-six percent of prisoners paroled are reincarcerated on technical violations like failure to report to the parole agent within three years of release. The new rules are a cost-cutting measure designed to reduce that rate by fifty percent.
The new law contains a directive to the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing to create and implement a sentence risk assessment tool that will help Judges to determine the appropriate sentence by evaluating the risk that an offender will commit new crimes and be a risk to public safety. This tool will likely be incorporated into the existing sentencing guidelines.
The law also addresses the long-standing problem of refusing to parole inmates otherwise eligible for parole but who have not completed required counseling programs in prison. The problem with this situation is that the counseling programs are frequently not available to the inmates, making it impossible for them to obtain parole. Under the new law, parole will not be blocked for this reason if the programs are available in the community. The new exception will not apply to violent offenders or sex offenders.
One provision of the bill, providing for early release to community corrections centers, was stricken from the bill. Although the community corrections centers portion was not passed, it is still being considered and may be passed in future legislation.