Pennsylvania corrections system cuts considered
Faced with soaring prison costs in a state where both violent and property crime rates are declining, Gov. Tom Corbett has tasked a panel of judicial, legislative and criminal justice officials to come up with recommendations on how to reduce spending on and improve the corrections system.
Corbett, a former state and federal prosecutor, applied for a grant to study the issue shortly after he was elected. Last summer, in an effort that mirrored studies conducted in 15 states, analysts from The Council of State Governments Justice Center began collecting data from Pennsylvania's courts and corrections systems.
On Thursday, they delivered their preliminary findings to the panel, dubbed the Justice Reinvestment Initiative.
Researchers found that the number of people admitted to state prisons increased by 46 percent over the last decade, even as violent crime and property crime rates declined by 13 percent and 15 percent, respectively. Department of Corrections spending ballooned from $1.1 billion to $1.9 billion during the same period.
Carnegie Mellon University professor Alfred Blumstein, a nationally recognized expert on crime, said Pennsylvania, like many other states facing budgetary constraints, is taking a hard look at corrections spending.
"It's an issue in which the left and the right in this highly polarized world are at least ready to talk about," Blumstein said. "The right is concerned about the fiscal issues and the left about the excessive punitiveness of the system.
"They're looking to find some common ground, and that's encouraging."
John Whetzel, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, said the Justice Reinvestment Initiative will take a top-to-bottom look at the courts and corrections systems to determine whether they could make better decisions about sentencing, treatment, parole and "putting people where they need to be based on the risk."
Doing a better job could enhance public safety, lead to reductions in recidivism and ultimately contain costs, he predicts.
"This will be based on data-driven decisions across the criminal justice continuum," Whetzel said. Other states are reaping the benefits of such studies, he said.
Marc Pelka, a senior analyst with The Council of State Governments Justice Center, said Texas was one of the early success stories.
"They were on the verge of spending $540 million on new prisons in 2007. Thanks to this process, they realized the real cause of their problem was the lack of people to supervise people on community probation," Pelka said.
"Then they put those dollars into providing sentencing and treatment options in the community. Last year Texas announced it would be closing its Sugarland prison."
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.