Gov. Wolf leads charge for reforms to criminal justice system

By Bill O’Boyle - [email protected]
Wolf -

WILKES-BARRE — Gov. Tom Wolf this week joined legislators and advocacy groups in a call for criminal justice reforms to refocus the system on rehabilitation while providing consistency and uniformity.

“The debate about how we can fix our criminal justice system is complicated, and over time that debate has changed to reflect the modern realities and issues present in our system,” Wolf said in a news release. “I believe that we can improve the criminal justice system, so that we can protect victims while also ending a cycle of incarceration that has left so many people feeling trapped, helpless, and without an opportunity to return to society after they have been released.”

The governor outlined a package of reform initiatives, including:

• Justice Reinvestment Initiatives, which seek to provide for fair sentencing, increased parole supervision and use of community-based programs.

• Bail and pre-trial reforms to ensure that everyone has a right to a fair trial and that risk-assessment tools are consistent across the state.

• Post-Conviction Relief Act expansion to reduce time sensitivity by increasing awareness of when rights expire so defendants can make an informed plea decision. Currently, if a defendant pleads guilty, they cannot apply for post-conviction relief. The governor believes this needs to change so all defendants, regardless of plea, may attempt to prove their innocence

• Probation/parole revocation changes to create uniformity in probation revocation procedures and ensure a correlation between risk and probation lengths.

• Comprehensive Clean Slate Legislation currently being considered in the General Assembly would provide an opportunity for persons convicted of greater offenses, including felonies, to reenter the community with success.

• Indigent defense is needed in Pennsylvania to ensure the independence and quality of counsel under the Sixth Amendment, the press release says.

• Stepping Up Initiative, which was launched statewide in April 2017, aims to reduce the number of people in county prisons who have serious mental illnesses.

DePasquale will review

deal for new radio system

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale this week said he will soon begin an audit of the recently awarded deal to replace the unreliable and ineffective statewide radio system that failed Pennsylvania State Police and first responders over the past 20 years.

“The time is right to take a deep dive to ensure Pennsylvania gets it right this time. Our first responders and taxpayers cannot afford a repeat of the previous two-decade boondoggle that failed miserably during the Eric Frein manhunt,” he said.

The audit will cover the contracting process from start to finish, focusing on these areas:

• What led up to and went into the 2016 Request for Proposals to replace the statewide radio network.

• Compliance with procurement procedures, including writing of specifications, vendor solicitation, and contract performance measurements.

• Current status of the contract.

Rep. Toohil pushing for

postpartum legislation

Bipartisan legislation sponsored by state Rep. Tarah Toohil, R-Butler Township, Rep. Mike Schlossberg, D-Lehigh, and Sen. Camera Bartolotta, R-western Pa., that would assist new mothers in Pennsylvania who are struggling with postpartum depression (PPD) and their babies was the focus of a Capitol news conference this week. The legislators were joined by supporters of the proposal, including two mothers impacted by PPD.

Toohil and Schlossberg are the co-prime sponsors of House Bill 200, which would automatically qualify infants whose mothers screen at risk for depression for Early Intervention assessment, tracking and — if necessary — ongoing in-home services. The legislation also has the added, proven benefit of connecting mothers with depression to mental health care.

Dr. Eina Fishman, chief clinical officer at Gateway Health, sees firsthand how PPD impacts the mothers and infants they serve.

Fishman said studies show one in seven women can experience depression in the year following giving birth and the results can be debilitating and devastating. She said untreated, postpartum depression may last for many months, and can cause emotional and behavioral problems, such as sleeping and eating difficulties, excessive crying, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in the children and their parents.

Bartolotta is the prime sponsor of a companion bill in the Senate.

Both bills advanced out of committee last year and are under review by the appropriations committees in the House and Senate.

Pa. House moves to expand

career, technical education

A package of bipartisan bills looking to boost career and technical education passed the state House of Representatives this week, according to one of the bill’s prime sponsors, Rep. Gerald Mullery.

Mullery, D-Newport Township, said the bills will help improve the delivery of career and technical education in Pennsylvania. Mullery recently met with the owner of Dotzel Trucking and Topsoil — a small family-run business in Slocum Township — who told Mullery the importance of technical education for the younger generation.

During public hearings, Mullery said it was noted that efforts shouldn’t be focused on reinventing the wheel by creating new programs. Rather, the state should focus on encouraging the expansion of quality programs into other parts of the state and even statewide.

But before that goal can be accomplished, Mullery said he must gather a complete accounting of existing CTE programs and use those programs as a model.

Under Mullery’s H.B. 2204, the Department of Education and the Department of Labor and Industry would conduct an inventory of existing workforce development programs at both the secondary and post-secondary levels with particular emphasis on opportunities for business-education partnerships.

“It’s important that we train students for the jobs that will be available in the future; and successful career and technical education programs do just that,” Mullery said.

Other bills in the package include:

• H.B. 2155 — would reform certification requirements for CTE teachers by emphasizing work experience in the field over additional course credits.

• H.B. 2157 — would speed the process for the classification of instructional programs.

• H.B. 2158 — would provide all students in grades four through 12 at least one opportunity to receive career information from career presenters and it would open schools to a wide range of educational contributors.

• H.B. 2159 — would expand the database that allows courses, programs, certifications and diplomas to transfer among public schools and colleges.

• H.B. 2203 — would create an online CTE resource center.

• H.B. 2206 — would require Workforce Development Boards to include an administrator of a CTE center.


By Bill O’Boyle

[email protected]

Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.

Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.