Justice or Just This?

By Sprecher, Jeffrey K. | Judicature, March/April 2013 | Go to article overview
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Justice or Just This?


Sprecher, Jeffrey K., Judicature


In late 2011, Judge Jeffrey K. Sprecher published a book: Justice or Just This? A Constitutional Crisis. (More information on the book can be found at www.jeffreysprecher. com.) This "easy read" covers many issues including prison overcrowding and how the other branches of government control sentencing in Pennsylvania. Judge Sprecher reassures us that our justice system is fair. But it's not perfect. There always has been and always will be a need to study, analyze, and improve. Justice or Just This? A Constitutional Crisis provides a detailed examination of the effects of the mandatory minimum sentencing law on Pennsylvania's criminal justice system. The book is written for the general public and advocates returning greater discretion to judges over sentencing.

Pennsylvania's State Prison population has increased to 52,000 inmates in the thirty years that the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing has been in existence, while the state's annual corrections budget increased 1,500 percent. The passage of laws to create the Commission and the many mandatory minimum sentences which allow the prosecutor to mandate the minimum sentences were inexcusably intended by the legislative and executive branches to take from the judiciary its most important duty: sentencing discretion. That's what got us into this mess. Prior to the Sentencing Commission being created in 1982, sentencing discretion was not controlled by these other branches and our annual state prison population never exceeded 8,500 inmates.

One must ask, why is sentencing not simply returned to the judiciary to correct the problem? The answer is because the Pennsylvania General Assembly and governor refuse to relinquish control. Notably, there are many businesses, investors, stockholders, chambers of commerce, and labor unions of correctional officers who continue to benefit from the system as it now exists.

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