Politicizing Punishment Over Treatment

In September 2023, I took the opportunity to lead a program for Montgomery County Criminal Division Judges, defense attorneys and prosecutors on the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections’ (DOC) new programs. These programs are designed to educate, support, treat and help eligible convicts who are incarcerated in state prisons. Jim Stover, a member of the DOC who runs the Boot Camp, State Drug Treatment Program and State Short Term Parole, spoke to the group about the programs’ successes. He particularly emphasized the participants’ significantly lower rates of recidivism following their successful completion of the programs.


Notably, despite extending an invite to attorneys from the local District Attorney’s Office, the program was solely attended by Judges, public defenders, and the private criminal defense bar. The District Attorney’s Office has a very political agenda, caring deeply about prosecution and punishment. From my experience, many there are not generally interested in agreeing to alternative treatment programs, especially for convicted felons serving state prison sentences. Their lack of interest in these programs is particularly unfortunate, as when the District Attorney’s Office objects on the record for a client to be considered for an alternative treatment program, the client will not be considered.


I recently experienced one prosecutor’s aversion to treatment programs firsthand when an eligible client was denied consideration for the Boot Camp Program. This client had served over 3 years of his 4.5 to 9-year sentence and with the approval of the District Attorney’s Office, he could be considered to complete the last part of his minimum sentence in the Boot Camp Program. This program is an intensive six-month military-like program that teaches responsibility, discipline, accountability, and various other important life skills. An integral part of the program is the support that the participants receive when they are released on parole. The program has a very high rate of success, with its participants having significantly lower rates of recidivism compared to those who remain in a prison, behind bars until they are eligible for parole.


This particular client was jailed because he had a gun in his car which was discovered during a traffic stop. He successfully completed all required programs in the state prison where he was housed. His security level was very low, meaning he had no misconducts and followed the rules and requirements that were placed upon him by the prison. Given his exceptional cooperation, my client was an ideal candidate for Boot Camp after serving most of his sentence behind bars in a high security prison. However, the prosecutor refused to agree. Therefore, he was denied consideration for the program and remains in prison until he reaches his minimum sentence and is eligible for parole in the summer of 2024.


Many of the supervisors in the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office too often prioritize politics, prosecution and punishment over justice and doing the right thing, as their office’s reputation matters more to them than being part of positive reformation initiatives. After serving most of his sentence, my client had the opportunity to better himself, receive helpful support from state parole during his transition from Boot Camp to the community and to ultimately reduce his risk of future recidivism. All of these opportunities were denied because the District Attorney’s Office values the politics of keeping someone in jail for a case involving a gun as long as possible over treatment programs.


There is a great deal of negative talk in the media about progressive district attorneys who admirably seek justice and do the right thing for those in the criminal justice system. Many televised political commercials use manipulative rhetoric to convince us that putting people in prison is best for the community. While this is a justified result for our most violent individuals, in many instances, alternatives such as Boot Camp and drug treatment programs are excellent choices that, in the long run, will make the community safer than traditional incarceration, which does not provide any growth opportunities. If the District Attorney’s Office truly wants to keep the community safe, they should support these programs and agree to give eligible individuals a chance to better themselves.


I will continue to make efforts in the coming year to push back against the politically popular idea that imprisonment is the no-exception solution to reduce criminal activity and to keep our community safe. I hope that my and others’ voices will be heard by our legislators and other leaders in Pennsylvania and that an effort will be made to give as many people as possible the chance to better themselves and reduce their likelihood of future negative contact with the criminal justice system.

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