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Bills That Fill Jails Are Harrisburg’s Version of Bipartisanship. We Can Do Without It

Pennsylvania Capital Star: Nikil Saval and Rick Krajewski | November 16, 2021

Like many crime bills, Senate Bill 814 was born from tragedy.

In 2015, John Wilding, a Scranton police officer, set off in pursuit of three teen armed robbery suspects. In the middle of the chase, he fell from a 15-foot drop and hit his head, eventually dying from his injury. Prosecutors held the teens responsible for the officer’s death and charged them with second-degree murder.

In addition, lawmakers in the Pennsylvania Senate drafted SB14, sponsored by Sen. John Yudichak, I-Luzerne, that would make what happened to Officer Wilding a very specific crime. In October, Yudichak’s bill advanced through committee, passed the Senate, and was sent to the House.

The bill—“Wilding’s Law”—creates two new felony offenses for actions that are already illegal: (1) prohibiting evading police arrest or detention on foot; and (2) harming a police animal while evading arrest or detention, resisting arrest, or disarming a law enforcement officer. In spirit, the bill exists to memorialize the dead officer. In practice, it increases penalties for existing offenses, and thereby the time a person who is found guilty of those offenses is incarcerated.

The legislation draws on no history of criminal jurisprudence for the laws it amends; it rests on no data to justify the punishments it creates. Its only accomplishment—indeed what is likely to be its most significant effect—is its promise to solidify Pennsylvania’s position as the regional leader in incarcerating its own people.

At a time of intense political polarization, one thing remains steadfast in its ability to garner broad bipartisan support among Pennsylvania legislators: the creation of new crimes and sentences.

Each year, bill after bill is introduced, voted through with near universal approval, signed into law, and celebrated as a triumph of justice. During the 2019–2020 legislative session, despite widespread protests across the state against police brutality and mass incarceration, members of Pennsylvania’s General Assembly introduced more than 280 bills to expand criminal offenses and punishments, passing 15 new offenses and sub-offenses, with 26 new penalties.

To read the full article, click here.

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