Mandatory Minimum Bill Passes House, Faces Longer Odds In Senate

Apr 6, 2017

The state House has passed a bill to keep certain drug and violent crime offenders in prison longer.

House Bill 741 makes legal fixes to reinstate a number of mandatory minimum sentences, which were found unconstitutional in 2015 by the state Supreme Court. It comes as the commonwealth--and many other states--try to shrink prison populations.

Philadelphia County's Jordan Harris took that argument against the bill on the House floor.

"We don't need mandatory minimums," said Harris, a Democrat. "We're going in the right direction as a commonwealth with regards to criminal justice reform. This takes us back to the Draconian era."

The state Corrections Department estimates the plan will cost up to $85 million, even as the agency struggles to cut spending.

The bill's sponsor, Montgomery County Republican Rep. Todd Stephens, said it's worth the cost to make the commonwealth safer.

"With the loss of mandatory minimums, the folks who are suppliers, who are out there supplying heroin, are getting less time and are back out on the street sooner," he said.

The measure is strongly opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union, Gov. Tom Wolf and Corrections Secretary John Wetzel, who have both said longer sentences don't reduce either crime or recidivism, citing a 2009 report from the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing.

District attorneys from Allegheny, Butler and Washington counties called on legislators last week to restore the sentences for certain crimes.

The measure now goes to the Senate, where it faces more uncertain prospects.