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Understanding Sentencing

The sentencing process can be a complicated process to understand. MIN… MAX… Original sentence…What does all of it mean?


Original Sentence: The sentence comes from the original conviction. It is from this sentence that the board paroles the inmate and the parolee serves the remaining time in the community unless recommitted by the board.

Aggregate Sentence: Two or more consecutive sentences that have been combined.

Consecutive Sentence: A sentence to be served immediately following the termination or completion of another sentence.

Concurrent Sentence: Sentences being served simultaneously (at the same time).

How is the length of a sentence determined?

Mandatory Sentences: The court cannot impose a sentence less than that required by a mandatory minimum provision established in statute. When the guideline range is lower than that required by a mandatory sentencing statute, the mandatory minimum requirement supersedes the sentence recommendation. When the sentence recommendation is higher than that required by a mandatory sentencing statute, the court shall consider the guideline recommendations.

Minimum Sentence (MIN): An inmate in state prison must serve the entire minimum sentence prior to becoming eligible for parole. The MIN date is NOT an inmate’s parole date.

Maximum Sentence (MAX): The court must impose a maximum sentence that is at least double the minimum sentence, but the maximum sentence cannot exceed the period of time authorized. After an inmate is paroled, the balance of the sentence (until the maximum is reached) is served on parole.

If an incarcerated individual thinks his/her original sentence minimum and maximum dates are wrong, he/she needs to submit a request for sentence review to the Department of Correction's inmate records office – not the Parole Board.

Sentencing Guidelines

Courts consider the sentencing guidelines in determining the appropriate sentence for individuals convicted of, or pleading guilty or nolo contendere to, felonies and misdemeanors.

Where crimes merge for sentencing purposes, the court shall consider the sentencing guidelines only on the higher-graded offense. Guidelines do not apply to: certain diversion programs, contempt or revocations, summary convictions, violations of local ordinances or current juvenile adjudications of delinquency.

For more detailed information on sentencing, please visit the website of the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing.

What is Recidivism Risk Reduction Incentive (RRRI)?

• Enables eligible, non-violent offenders to reduce their minimum sentences if they complete recommended programs and maintain a positive prison adjustment (good conduct and remain misconduct free during incarceration)
• Is a public safety initiative to reduce recidivism and victimization
• Intent is to provide more access to crime-reducing drug/alcohol treatment programs and to provide incentives to less violent offenders to complete programs that will provide them with tools to help them become productive, law-abiding
• Applies to sentences received on/after November 24, 2008

How does RRRI work?

At sentencing, the court makes the determination whether the defendant is an eligible offender. The prosecuting attorney has an opportunity to argue eligibility, and the victim has a right to provide input. The court will prescribe two minimum sentences: one is RRRI minimum; the other is the regular minimum.

**Example: A less violent offender who is eligible for the incentive receives a typical 2-4 year sentence. The RRRI minimum would be 18 months, and the regular minimum 2 years.

Short Sentence Parole (SSP)

Under Act 115 of 2019 (or the Justice Reinvestment Initiative 2 (JRI2)), Short Sentence Parole allows the Parole Board to parole an individual without requiring an interview at the end of the person’s minimum date or RRRI minimum date, whichever is shorter. If the person eligible for SSP was committed to a DOC facility after the expiration of his/her minimum date, the Parole Board will approve the person for parole without requiring an interview within 30 days after commitment to the facility.