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HARRISBURG – In an effort to better protect the public and prison corrections staff by ensuring dangerous criminals are held accountable, the House passed a package of bills this week known as the “Smart Justice” package, said Rep. Rob Kauffman (R-89), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which first vetted the bills. 

The package also contains measures supporting ex-offenders who have paid their debt to society and demonstrated a commitment to rehabilitation.

“Smart justice is all about balance,” said Kauffman. “We are helping those individuals who have put in the effort to change their ways and giving them a second chance, while making sure those who continue to pose a threat remain behind bars. Earlier this year we focused on bills to help victims of crime, and now we are focusing on the other side of the equation.”

House Bill 1855 precludes the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole from paroling an inmate at the expiration of his or her minimum sentence if the inmate was convicted of a violent offense or an obstruction of justice while incarcerated.

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The bill is known as Markie’s Law, named after an 8-year-old boy who was brutally stabbed to death by a man paroled at the end of his minimum sentence for homicide. He had committed two separate assaults on other inmates while behind bars.

“Convicted criminals who continue to commit violent acts while incarcerated should not be released on the streets after serving the bare minimum of their sentence,” said Kauffman. “These individuals are a danger to the public, and the tragic death of Markie Mason is a prime example of that.”

The House also approved legislation to better support the thousands of men and women who work in Pennsylvania’s correctional facilities.

House Bills 256 and 257 strengthens penalties against inmates who commit an assault on corrections officers or staff members.

“Our correctional employees face unpredictable danger every day they go to work,” said Kauffman. “These measures, if passed into law, will help hold inmates who seek to harm them more accountable.

Kauffman said the legislation recognizes that some people make mistakes and regret them, working hard to change.

“We want to support their rehabilitation efforts and relieve the taxpayers from footing the bill for these men and women by getting them out of the state penal system and back with their families and into jobs as quickly as possible.”

House Bill 440 mandates expungement of an individual’s record under limited circumstances and House Bill 1477 ensures ex-offenders are not automatically excluded from pursuing work in some of the state’s licensed professions.

Two Senate bills also make needed enhancements to the current parole and probation system.

Senate Bill 500 creates an advisory committee on adult county probation, establishes Justice Reinvestment grants, and reinvests cost savings into county probation and parole.

Senate Bill 501 incorporates the county intermediate punishment program into county probation, provides reasonable parole for certain short-term minimum sentences in state correctional institutions, amends the duties of the PA Sentencing Commission and adds other correctional system and sentencing changes. In addition, minimum mandatory sentencing guidelines would be imposed for crimes against children, and there would be a mandatory 12-month period of re-entry parole supervision for inmates who “max out” on their sentences and thus would otherwise be subject to release without any supervision.

“I gave my word that we would address criminal justice reform before the end of the year and we did,” said Kauffman. “This is an important aspect of our justice system, and I am pleased we were able to move these bills forward through the process so quickly.”

The bills now go to the state Senate for consideration.

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