HARRISBURG – As Governor Wolf prepares to release up to 1,800 prisoners from state correctional institutions amid the COVID-19 outbreak, Senator Scott Martin (R-13) is raising concerns about the process of deciding which inmates should go free.
The current process outlined by the Wolf Administration claims it would offer an opportunity for judges and district attorneys to provide input into decisions about inmate releases, but the final decision would be made solely by the Department of Corrections, without veto power by a Judge or District Attorney.
“The entire premise behind COVID-19 mitigation has been doing what is best for public safety. I have serious doubts that releasing prisoners without the consent of the judicial branch or prosecutors will make our communities safer,” Martin said. “If we are going to release criminals back into society before their sentences are finished, we need to determine whether they present any real risk of recidivism. That can’t happen without empowering the people who tried these cases and sentenced these criminals in the first place to veto releases of potentially dangerous criminals.”
Martin noted that some violent offenders take plea deals for non-violent offenses. Some of those inmates would now be eligible for early release under the governor’s order. In other cases, individuals are convicted for less serious offenses while investigations are ongoing for more serious crimes the individuals may have committed.
Martin has been involved in the criminal justice system in many capacities throughout his professional career.
“I’ve had first-hand experience in the criminal justice system and implementing best practices. It is dangerously naive to think that every person eligible for release under the governor’s order is actually non-violent. That is something that can only be determined by the prosecutors who spent months building their cases, and the judges who have carefully reviewed the circumstances of these cases,” Martin said. “I understand these are difficult times, and the questions we face today in relation to the coronavirus do not often have easy answers. However, our local judges and district attorneys hold the highest responsibility for keeping dangerous individuals behind bars and represent victims’ rights, as well. I believe they should have the final say on whether individual criminals are released – not the governor.”
CONTACT: Terry Trego (717) 787-6535