In this case out of Dauphin County the Commonwealth Court held that municipalities cannot prohibit through zoning regulations the placement of violent offenders into work-release programs within their jurisdiction.
TWL operated a community work-release facility in West Hanover Township. Under its contract with the Department of Corrections, TWL was required to accept all offenders referred to it, regardless of criminal history. The Township’s Zoning Ordinance only allowed nonviolent criminals to be placed in such facilities. After two residents convicted of Tier #3 sex offenses were placed in the TWL facility, the Township issued a zoning violation notice. TWL then filed a substantive validity challenge to the ordinance, claiming it was in conflict with the Prisons and Parole Code. The ZHB dismissed the challenge and TWL appealed. The Court of Common Pleas of Dauphin County reversed the ZHB decision and the Township appealed.
The Commonwealth Court affirmed the trial court’s determination. It held that it was the purview of the sentencing courts and the Parole Board to determine which offenders were appropriate for community work-release programs. When the Commonwealth places an offender in a particular work-release program, it has determined the offender’s placement is consistent with both the public’s safety and the needs of the offender to reintegrate into society. The Ordinance’s ban on the housing of offenders with violent criminal histories conflicted with this determination. If the Ordinance was allowed to stand, the court concluded, other municipalities could enact similar ordinances with more restrictive standards and jeopardize the parole scheme as embodied by the Sentencing and Parole Codes.
Click here to read: TWL Realty, LLC v. West Hanover Twp. ZHB, 17 C.D. 2015 (Pa. Cmmw. Ct. Jan. 5, 2016).