Reforming Our Criminal Justice System

“It’s critical that we reform our criminal justice system to make communities safer, to reduce the number of victims of crime and support their needs while protecting the interests of taxpayers. Pennsylvania spends $4 billion annually on corrections—more than we spend on higher education—but data has shown that jail alone cannot solve society’s problem. We need a smart-on-crime approach that targets resources to where they are needed most, emphasizes treatment and breaks the cycle of recidivism. We need systematic reform that restores fairness, saves taxpayer dollars and makes our communities safer.” – Josh Shapiro

Champion proven reforms, like diversion programs, mandated treatment and problem-solving courts. As chair of the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency and Montgomery County Commissioner, Shapiro has championed programs and reforms with a proven track record of saving taxpayer dollars and increasing public safety, like diversion for at-risk youth, mandated treatment programs for non-violent offenders and specialized drug, DUI and veterans courts. These courts hold non-violent offenders accountable while ensuring they get the help they need. Shapiro also leads Pennsylvania’s Justice Reinvestment Initiative, a bipartisan, evidence-based approach to addressing the Commonwealth’s mass incarceration problem. As Attorney General, he will continue to advocate for and promote these reforms.

Uphold the rights of all Pennsylvanians to a fair defense. Pennsylvania is the only state that provides no money for indigent defense – this must change. Additionally, as Attorney General, Shapiro will champion best practices by police and prosecutors that ensure fairness, like rigorous line-up procedures; videotaping interviews with witnesses and suspects; enhanced safeguarding of evidence; and proper presentation of forensic testimony.

Implement smart pre-trial detention and sentencing policies. Despite a recent decline in our prison population, Pennsylvania’s incarceration rate remains the highest in the Northeast and costs taxpayers $4 billion every year, including both state and county dollars. We can improve this system by reforming pre-trial detention, sentencing and parole recommendations to ensure that limited law enforcement resources are spent on the most serious offenders instead of being wasted.

Ensure fairness and objectivity in handling cases involving use of force by police officers. All cases in our justice system must be investigated in a thorough, fair, and impartial manner, including those involving use of force by police. As Attorney General, Shapiro will make assistance available to local prosecutors in cases involving use of force by police officers. District attorneys will have the option to request assistance from the Office of Attorney General or refer cases in their entirety to the Attorney General as authorized by the Commonwealth Attorneys Act.

Train returning citizens to break the cycle of recidivism. Returning citizens who have paid their debts to society deserve a second chance. Under Shapiro’s leadership, Montgomery County was recognized by the Department of Labor for the success of its prison re-entry support program. Inmates have access to job training, anger management and parenting education to give them the skills they need to succeed personally and professionally following their incarceration. As Attorney General, Shapiro will advocate for funding for re-entry support programs and will work with judges, corrections officials and probation and parole officers to ensure criminal sentences can eventually lead to successful re-entry that breaks the cycle of recidivism.

Ensure criminal history is not being used to illegally discriminate. For many returning citizens, a criminal conviction is a barrier to employment that hurts whole families and communities. Under Shapiro’s leadership, Montgomery County has enacted a “ban-the-box” policy for those applying for county jobs. As Attorney General, Shapiro will champion efforts to reduce barriers to employment for returning citizens to lower recidivism and ensure that non-conviction criminal history and expunged or redacted records are not unlawfully made public or used as a basis for discrimination against any citizen of the Commonwealth.

Update the databases and tools law enforcement relies on. It’s critical that the tools and databases law enforcement relies on to catch criminals are up to date. As Chairman of the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, Shapiro is leading the effort to reach 100% fingerprinting of all those arrested and eliminate the backlog of 1,800 untested rape kits across the Commonwealth. As Attorney General, Shapiro will continue this work to strengthen policing and keep communities safe.

Use data to guide decision-making and track progress. Data-driven decision-making has dramatically transformed many professions for the better, but our criminal justice system has lagged far behind modern data practices. In many cases, useful data is limited or non-existent. As Attorney General, Shapiro will model a 21st Century approach to criminal justice, defining specific, measurable criteria for success and using data to guide decision-making and track progress. In addition, he will ensure that data is publicly available in pre-compiled, useful formats to help others study our criminal justice system to find even more ways to improve it.