Pennsylvania sees big increase in SIP for drug cases

Filed under: Criminal Law, Drug Crimes by Contributor @ March 26, 2013

What is SIP?

State Intermediate Punishment, or SIP, is a substance abuse treatment program designed for drug offenders who would otherwise be sentenced to incarceration in a state prison. The SIP program officially began in May 2005 as a state equivalent to the Restricted Intermediate Punishment (RIP) program, which has been in existence in Pennsylvania since 1990. RIP is similar to SIP, but is administered at the county level. Pennsylvania has seen a huge increase in the number of inmates being sentenced to SIP in the last year or so.

What does SIP involve?

SIP is a two-year sentence in which drug offenders go through a multiphase “step-down” treatment program, where each phase is less invasive and restrictive than the last. Phase 1 is a period of incarceration of no less than 7 months in a State correctional institution, 4 of which must be spent in an institutional therapeutic community setting. Phase 2 is a period of no less than 2 months in an inpatient community treatment center, followed by phase 3, which is a period of no less than 6 months of treatment at an outpatient community treatment center. Phase 4 lasts for the remainder of the 24 months, in which the offender will undergo “supervised reintegration”.

Who is eligible for SIP?

SIP was created primarily to treat non-violent drug offenders and offenders found guilty of an offense that was committed to fund drug use, including burglary and retail theft. In order to be considered for SIP, the prosecutor and sentencing judge must both recommend the offender for the program. The Department of Corrections (DOC) will then conduct a thorough month-long  assessment of the individual at State Correctional Institution Camp Hill in Cumberland County, determining both his addiction severity (TCU score) and risk for recidivism (LSIR score). Individuals with a high TCU score and low LSIR score are more likely to be admitted into the program. After a favorable recommendation from the DOC, the judge will then sentence the individual to SIP. Of offenders statutorily eligible for SIP, only approximately 29% will be referred to the DOC for assessment. This is largely due to the fact that many defendants and their attorneys don’t even know to request the program. Approximately 80% of those who undergo assessment will actually be admitted into SIP.

What are the benefits of SIP?

It is unclear whether or not SIP reduces recidivism. Some studies show that it does lower the rate of re-arrest, while other studies have shown that it does not. SIP does, however, decrease the number of inmates in our already-overcrowded State prisons. If enough individuals are admitted into SIP, some prisons could close, saving enormous amounts of money.

What are the downsides to SIP?

Unfortunately, SIP is not without its share of drawbacks. By and large, both RIP and SIP are underutilized. If these programs were used more, then the financial gains would be more prominent, as prison populations would decrease and prisons could close.

From the offender’s standpoint, SIP can be a hassle. There have been many instances of individuals spending an unnecessarily long period of time undergoing assessment at Camp Hill, which delays the start of the program. In addition, since the statutory lengths of each phase of SIP is only a minimum period of time, there is no certainty as to exactly when an offender will move on to the next phase.

Contact us

If you have been charged with a drug or drug related crime, or would like more information on SIP, contact a criminal defense attorney at Fairlie & Lippy today.


Special thanks to Pennsylvania State University Professor John Kramer (Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing 1979-1998, Staff Director of the United States Sentencing Commission 1996-1998) for his contribution to this blog post.

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