42Wolf: Pennsylvania prison population declined by 842 in 2015

| Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2016, 3:15 p.m.

The Wolf administration said Tuesday that Pennsylvania's prison population decreased by 842 inmates last year, continuing a decline stemming from criminal justice reforms enacted in 2012, but a union leader said the numbers mask other problems.

At a news conference at the Harrisburg Community Corrections Center, Gov. Tom Wolf and Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said the reforms are reducing the number of offenders in prison and diverting parole violators to less-expensive local centers known as halfway houses. Money saved can be used to educate offenders and provide treatment for drug addiction or mental health problems, they said.

The administration billed last year's decline as the biggest one-year decrease in four decades, but the prison population was soaring throughout most of that period. The 2015 population, including prison inmates and offenders held in alternative settings, was 49,914 — the smallest since 2009, the department said.

The decreasing population and associated costs have put Pennsylvania in the national spotlight on prison reform issues.

Roy Pinto, president of the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association, said the numbers don't tell the whole story.

Many parole violators at local corrections centers who should have been returned to prison for infractions are instead being kept at the centers until they're released to make the program look better, Pinto said.

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