Public Safety & Mass Liberation

Our Commonwealth’s incarceration rate exceeds those of every other democratic country in the world. When that rate includes those on probation or parole, we have a mass punishment rate higher than the rates in 39 states. Relying on punishment as the solution to crime is not working. If it were, the United States would be the safest country in the world because it has the highest incarceration rate, and Pennsylvania would be one of the safest states in the country. While our country has five percent of the world’s population, we have twenty-five percent of the world’s prison population. It should come as little surprise, then, that a growing body of research points to the conclusion that prisons do not make us safer. Instead, we must redirect money from private prisons to our communities, end cruel and inhumane punishments, and focus on the evidence-based practices that actually reduce crime and increase safety.

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1. Invest in Communities Not Punishments

The prison boom of the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s has been described as “one of the more concerted public works projects in recent history.”  Pennsylvania took part, opening 20 of our 25 state correctional institutions in those decades. In 2023, these prisons incarcerated 38,942 people, nearly 23% of whom were convicted in Philadelphia (even though the City only accounts for 12% of the Commonwealth’s population), at a cost of nearly $3 billion dollars each year. 

Our addiction to incarceration is not limited to state prisons.  It extends to local jails — where tens of thousands are locked up before trial and nearly fifteen thousand after trial — and youth prisons, where we incarcerate nearly three thousand children.

Rather than making us safer, these massive investments in incarceration have perpetrated significant violence and harm, disproportionately targeted communities of color, and torn struggling families apart. For every white person we incarcerate, Pennsylvania incarcerates eight Black people.

It’s past time to stop expanding the prison system in Pennsylvania. Specifically, we need the following:

2. End Cruel Punishment for All

Pennsylvania bears many shameful badges in the realm of punishment.  We are the world’s leader in life without parole—or, death by incarceration (“DBI”)—sentences. As of the end of 2022, we had the seventh largest death row in the country, behind California, Florida, Texas, North Carolina, Ohio, and Alabama. We also are one of the nation’s leaders in correctional control, as a result of our serious over-reliance on probation and parole, and one of the nation’s leaders in youth incarceration. This cruelty does little to solve our collective challenges.  Instead, it often replicates and worsens them. That’s why we support these policies:

3. Invest in Proven Public Safety Strategies

As we scale back our cruel system of criminal punishment, we must put forward proven, effective strategies for reducing harm and violence, and we must implement policies that promote healing, rehabilitation, and restoration. Philadelphians deserve to enjoy safety in our City, so we should invest in these evidence-based strategies instead of doubling down on cruel practices that have failed to keep us safe.

Please stay tuned in the coming weeks for more of Nikil’s plans, which will address major issues impacting our communities.

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