State Corrections Secretary John Wetzel deserves credit for his efforts to cut the $34,700 that each of his department's more than 50,000 inmates costs taxpayers annually.
Mr. Wetzel points out that he at least has “flattened out the growth” in Corrections' budget. Hopefully, he won't repeat the sort of mistake he made when his January announcement of prison closings in Hempfield and Cresson blindsided those prisons' employees and state lawmakers in affected districts, which his spokeswoman says he “deeply regrets.”
Wetzel encourages dealing with addicted nonviolent offenders at the local level and successfully built bipartisan support — despite opposition from the prison guards' union — for ensuring on-time early releases for eligible nonviolent inmates. That's helping reduce $4 million in annual costs for housing such inmates longer than necessary — without weakening early-release criteria.
Now, Wetzel is targeting further savings. He's seeking to reduce recidivism through about 50 innovative Community Corrections Centers — halfway houses run by vendors who pay penalties or earn bonuses, depending on how they perform in preventing rearrests or reincarceration of inmates. That program's too new to judge its success but holds significant cost-cutting promise.
Wetzel's new solutions for old problems are what the Commonwealth Foundation's Matthew Brouillette calls “both tough on crime and smart on crime” — which taxpayers should welcome.