Nelson bill to expand prison oversight passes Pa. House

HARRISBURG, June 25 – A bill that would further empower counties in criminal justice oversight passed the state House Monday, announced its sponsor, state Rep. Napoleon Nelson.

Specifically, H.B. 1509 would remedy a gap in Pennsylvania law by which Montgomery County cannot appoint a county jail oversight board. It is the only county without this option.

The bill would also create the option of adding public members to prison oversight boards statewide.

“Over 70,000 Pennsylvania residents are incarcerated, nearly half of them in county jails, prisons or correctional facilities,” said Nelson, D-Montgomery. “These residents and their families retain the right to proper jail governance while incarcerated. Well-appointed oversight boards are a critical measure to ensure and protect that right.”

Oversight boards can consist of county commissioners along with other designated officers. They exert significant influence over how county prisons operate.

“The added transparency and accountability are the keys to effective reform. Including an array of members on a board that are elected officials and members of the public ensures that the board reflects as many concerns and values as possible,” Nelson said. “This can lead to initiatives that support inmate reintegration and reduce recidivism rates. An expanded board can also enhance monitoring and reporting functions, including regular reporting on prison conditions, treatment of inmates, compliance with laws and overall safety.”

The legislation would allow Montgomery, Bucks and Delaware counties to establish a board of inspectors subject to the same requirements as third-, fourth- and fifth-class counties, and Lancaster County, and all counties that in the future may become 2A-class counties.