Criminal Justice Reform
Pennsylvania has more people serving time in prison than almost every other state in the country. We must end the school to prison pipeline and reduce the number of people incarcerated in our state. We can start with eliminating cash bail, creating more opportunities for parole and probation, and completely ending the death penalty.
EXTEND PAROLE ELIGIBILITY TO THOSE SERVING LIFE SENTENECES
All life sentences in Pennsylvania are imposed without the possibility of parole. This means that individuals sentenced to life imprisonment may not be considered for parole, no matter how much they have reformed themselves and no matter how unlikely they are to re-offend. Those sentenced to life without parole in Pennsylvania also have no chance at release when they grow so ill or elderly they pose little to no risk to the public. Not only does this represent an injustice to an individual who is a model inmate despite having no chance at life outside of prison, but it also creates an avoidable expense for the corrections system – and the taxpayers who fund it – by incarcerating individuals longer than necessary.
Sharif’s has written and introduced legislation to permit an individual sentenced to life imprisonment under the laws of this Commonwealth to be considered for parole after a reasonable amount of time. The bill creates no right to parole, so it will not allow our most dangerous inmates to go free. The Commonwealth’s Board of Probation and Parole will continue to responsibly reject requests for parole from those who do not deserve it or those who present too great a safety risk to the public.
ESTABLISH A STATE OFFICE OF RE-ENTRY PROGRAMS
As we continue to reduce Pennsylvania’s level of mass incarceration, we must invest in programs that are designed to help returning citizens successfully “reenter” society following their incarceration, reducing recidivism, improving public safety, and saving money. Sharif is working to create a State Office of Re-Entry Programs funded by Justice Reinvestment Initiatives that reinvest savings from criminal justice reforms back into the criminal justice system.
AUTO-EXPUNGE ALL CHARGES NOT RESULTING IN A CONVICTION
Sharif has introduced legislation that would automatically expunge all charges from a criminal record that did not lead to a conviction. The bill also automatically expunges the records of anyone who has received a pardon or commutation, eliminating an additional, an often costly step, in Pennsylvania’s complicated pardons process.
END CASH BAIL IN PENNSYLVANIA
On any given day in the United States, nearly 500,000 people who have not been convicted of a crime are incarcerated because they are unable to pay bail. People who sit in jail for months awaiting trial often lose their jobs and children, even if they are acquitted. After spending every day surrounded by other inmates, the acquitted must return to their now shattered lives. They have few options for employment and are now more likely to commit crimes. For this awful result, we the taxpayers pay thousands of dollars per month per individual to incarcerate presumptively innocent people. This is unfair, discriminatory, enormously expensive, and destructive to those individuals and their families. Sharif has introduced legislation to end cash bail in Pennsylvania.
DECRIMINALIZE POSSESSION OF CANNABIS
In 2016, cannabis was legalized in Pennsylvania for medical purposes. Patients that have been diagnosed with one of several conditions may legally qualify to receive relief using medicinal marijuana. Yet, we still criminalize recreational cannabis and incarcerate those who possess small amounts of it. This seems injudicious and, frankly, inappropriate. Each year in Pennsylvania, thousands of people are charged with minor offenses for possession of cannabis. These charges permanently stain records and hinder an individual’s ability to obtain work, housing, and childcare. Sharif not only supports decriminalization, but full adult-use legalization, and he has written and introduced legislation to do so.
ENACT COMPREHENSIVE PROBATION REFORM
Currently, probation terms can far exceed the original sentence handed down at trial and create indefinite periods during which even a minor violation could result in re-confinement. In many cases, prolonged terms of probation result from technical violations that can perpetually extend the clock on the probation term. Technical violations could range from committing minor traffic offenses to traveling out of state – violations which anyone not on probation could easily incur in the course of life. Sharif believes this is inconsistent with the spirit of the law, which aims to rehabilitate rather than punish offenders.