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Politics & Government

Alternative Sentencing Effective in Pennsylvania, but Underutilized

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections found that the State Intermediate Punishment, or SIP Program helps reduce recidivism and saves the state money. But a recent report from the DOC found that from 2010 through 2012, the program was not used to its full potential, especially in larger counties.

“There were about 4,300 offenders who appeared eligible, but only 1,100 of them were referred by the court for SIP evaluation, so we’d like to see more use of the program because we are showing that it is beneficial and it does reduce the recidivism for individuals who go through that program,” said DOC Spokeswoman Susan McNaughton.

The SIP program is a sentencing alternative that combines incarceration with intensive substance abuse treatment over a period of 24 months. In order to be eligible a conviction must be for an offense motivated by use or addiction to alcohol or drugs. Violent offenders, those who use deadly weapons or commit any sexual violation are not eligible.

“It goes with the philosophy that what’s driving these individuals’ criminal behavior is addiction to various substances and rather than a lengthy incarceration what they really need is treatment, and that’s what this program provides,” said McNaughton.

The DOC report finds overall recidivism rates are lower for SIP participants than for a comparable group of non-SIP offenders. At six months SIP graduates had an 11.1 percent re-arrest rate versus 24.6 percent for non-graduates. The three-year re-arrest rate for SIP graduates is 42.1 percent versus 49.1 percent.

“The state can save $35,000 per SIP participant so it’s important not only because we can save money, but because we can provide these offenders with the treatment that they need and is proven to work,” said McNaughton.

The report estimates that the 1,743 current SIP graduates have saved the state approximately $61.8 million, though actual costs may be higher as that number doesn’t include the cost of parole supervision, which SIP graduates do not require. McNaughton said it’s not clear why the program is underutilized. She said the hope is that District Attorneys, judges and others in the process will learn more about the SIP program and its use will increase.