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Pennsylvania's State Intermediate Punishment Program
By Jeffrey A. Beard, Kathleen Gnall, Gary Zajac
Published: 07/11/2005

Like many states, Pennsylvania is experiencing growth in its inmate population.  In fact, Pennsylvania's prison population grew by 2% (823 inmates) from September 2004 to April 2005.  National data shows that two-thirds of the increase in states' prison populations since 1995 has been in the number of violent offendersi.  In Pennsylvania, however, the rise in the state prison population is being driven by drug offenders with short minimum sentences and technical parole violators. 

Many prison systems, including Pennsylvania's, are operating well above design capacity.   National dataii shows that while populations continue to swell, there are fewer treatment and education programs available to inmates in state prisons.  Pennsylvania has managed to maintain, and even add, to its arsenal of programs designed to help tackle recidivism. Yet, the expansion of programs has not been able to keep pace with a growing prison population.  Drug and property offenders with one to two year minimum sentences are hardly in prison long enough to complete programs that address some of their most serious criminogenic or crime-producing needs.  Oftentimes, they will end up on waiting lists for programs, especially intensive therapeutic communities, and more often than not, will be released before completing these programs.  This may be one of the reasons that the three-year recidivism rate for drug offenders has increased steadily since 1996, resulting in a 47% chance of being returned to prison at least one time in 3 years for those drug offenders released in 2000.iii

A reticence to change traditional sentencing structure and sentencing guidelines by legislators, district attorneys (DAs) and others led Pennsylvania to develop a new alternative for sentencing drug and property offenders with serious drug addictions.  This alternative is called the State Intermediate Punishment (SIP) program.  This article describes the SIP program, the steps that were taken to create it, and how the PA Department of Corrections (PDOC) believes it will reduce victimization and costs associated with recidivism.

The Genesis

On November 19, 2004 Governor Edward G. Rendell signed into law P.L. 855, No. 112 which became effective on May 18, 2005.  The Act establishes the Commonwealth's first state intermediate punishment program, geared towards drug offenders. 

The seed for SIP was planted about four years ago, when the PDOC, headed by Secretary of Corrections Jeffrey A. Beard Ph.D., recognized that additional options were needed for drug offenders serving relatively short minimum sentences in the PA state prison system.  A short period of incarceration with some treatment and little aftercare did not result in acceptable outcomes for this group of offenders.  Thus, the first step was to do a comprehensive literature review of programs designed to treat offenders with serious drug addictions.  Research and evaluation staff in the PDOC identified several programs operating across the nation, namely the Amity prison Therapeutic Community (TC) in California, the Kyle New Vision ITC prison-based TC in Texas and the KEY-CREST program in Delaware, as successful models.  These programs share some common elements, which are characteristic to successful TCs, including aftercare, coordination of prison-based and community-based treatment services and thorough inmate assessment.

Research findings from these and other successful programs indicate that treatment can reduce recidivism rates by 25 percentage points or more.  Studies of five of Pennsylvania's own prison-based TCs found positive effects of TC on reincarceration rates.  The two-year reincarceration rate for TC completers was 30 percent, while the reincarceration rate for the comparison group was 41 percent.

Research and evaluation staff identified the best practices from the most successful drug treatment programs for offenders and began building a program based on key practices.  For example, aftercare is considered a significant factor in achieving optimum outcomes. Various PADOC prison-based programs have already had standard community-based aftercare treatment in place (e.g. our boot camp, our dedicated drug treatment prison in Chester, PA), but SIP carries on this tradition and even expands its scope; SIP offenders will receive at least as much treatment in the community as they do in prison.

Once the initial SIP program was created, attorneys working at the PDOC drafted the initial SIP legislation.  The draft program and legislation was reviewed and signed-off on by the Governor's Office.  The PDOC projected that once the program reaches 400 participants, the Commonwealth will save at least $15,000 per participant.

The State Intermediate Punishment Program (SIP)

The SIP program is designed for offenders convicted of drug-related offenses.  A drug-related offense is a crime that was motivated by the defendant's consumption of or addiction to alcohol and other drugs.  SIP offenders are low-level, for the most part.  The program pretty much excludes offenders convicted of any violent or sex offenses, including any lesser offenses that involved the use of a deadly weapon.

For offenders to become involved in SIP, both the prosecutor and the sentencing judge must recommend them for the program.  Prior to sentencing, the judge must request that the PDOC conduct a thorough drug and alcohol and risk assessment of the offender. If the PDOC determines that the offender is suitable for the program and the Commonwealth's attorney does not object, the judge may impose a state intermediate punishment sentence.  Under SIP, the offender will serve a flat sentence of 24 months, at least seven of which will be served in in-prison, (four of them in a therapeutic community), a minimum of two months in a community-based therapeutic community and a minimum of six months in outpatient treatment.  The balance of the 24 months consists of supervised reintegration into the community, which involves DOC staff monitoring their progress in the community and some additional services or treatment, based upon their individual needs and progress.

All participants in the SIP program will have an individualized treatment plan.  Progress through the program is based on the assessed need and attainment of goals established for each offender. A person who fails in the program, due to misconduct or poor progress in treatement, will be subject to resentencing by the court under traditional sentencing guidelines.

The Players
 
In order for Pennsylvania to adopt the SIP program, it was essential that certain key groups supported the concept.  Based on New York's recent experience with the rollback of the Rockefeller Drug Laws, Secretary Beard recognized the importance that Pennsylvania's District Attorneys (DAs) would play in securing passage of any legislation.  It would be critical not to undermine the existing mandatory minimum sentences that are in place in Pennsylvania, for to do so would risk creating a "soft on crime" impression that would be unpalatable to the DAs. Likewise, the DAs would be unlikely to support drastic changes to existing sentencing guidelines crafted carefully over years.  After initial consultations with representatives from the DAs Association, it was clear that the organization's membership was amenable to supporting a viable drug treatment program with the understanding that if a sentenced offender did not take the program seriously or failed to progress, they would face significant incarceration under traditional sentencing guidelines.  This is consistent with research findings that show that the certainty of punishment acts as a deterrent.

The DA's Association had an existing relationship with the Drug and Alcohol Service Providers of Pennsylvania.   This organization provided support for the program.  They were most interested in ensuring that the treatment services provided to offenders during the program are of the highest quality.  This is why the legislation requires that both the therapeutic communities operated in prison and in the community meet standards established by nationally recognized bodies, such as the Therapeutic Communities Association of America.

Another critical player brought in early in the process was the Office of the Victim Advocate, representing victims of crime throughout the Commonwealth.  The victim community did not actively oppose the legislation to create the SIP program.

The Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing (Commission), a legislative body, provided key support on many technical aspects of the legislation. The Commission's Executive Director proved an important advocate for the legislation.  The Commission provided invaluable insight and guidance and in retrospect might have been brought into initial discussions when the legislation was first drafted by PDOC legal staff.

The Next Challenge

Initial use of the SIP has been very slow.  In the first two months of the program, only one inmate was referred.  The PDOC anticipated this response as the same thing happened when the Commonwealth opened its only boot camp for state offenders.  What is essential to the success of the program is a far-reaching, comprehensive educational campaign about the program and how it works.  Key sponsors of the legislation including the PDOC, the DAs Association and the Sentencing Commission are currently meeting with judges, public defenders and other attorneys representing defendants to explain the program and how it works. The PDOC recently sent an informational package on the SIP program to all President Judges, DAs and public defenders.  The PDOC has found that the timing of the educational campaign is very important; do it too soon and interested players tend to forget, do it too late and the program will not reach projections on the number of offenders anticipated to complete the program.

Conclusion

Adopting an alternative sentencing program requires careful research and planning.  Having key players involved from the outset is a critical factor in refining the program to make it of the highest quality and securing passage of the legislation.  Conducting a thoughtful educational campaign about the program and its mechanics is as important to securing passage of the legislation.  The significant time and effort required to adopt the Commonwealth's SIP program were well worth it, as the program is expected to eventually reduce victimization, recidivism and cost to the taxpayers.

i Bureau of Justice Statistics Prison and jail Inmates at Midyear 2004
ii  Petersillia, Joan.  When Prisoners Come Home: Parole and Prisoner Reentry. Oxford University Press. 2003. page 93.
iii Recidivism in Pennsylvania State Correctional Institutions 1996-2002. page 8.

Jeffrey A. Beard, Ph.D. is the Secretary of Corrections in Pennsylvania.
Kathleen Gnall is the Director of the Office of Planning, Research, Statistics and Grants for the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.
Gary Zajac, Ph.D. is the Research and Evaluation Manager for the DOC's Office of Planning, Research, Statistics and Grants.



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