Diverse Group Presses for PA Prison Reforms

A new coalition of corrections reform advocates brings together voices from all across the political spectrum.  “I think extreme partisanship has affected government at all levels,” former Democratic Governor George Leader explained at a capitol appearance.  Leader praised the cooperative effort, which organizers are calling “transpartisan.” 

“We have common goals… We can spend less and get more from this,” added Matt Brouillette, who leads the Commonwealth Foundation, a conservative think-thank in Harrisburg. 

They’re talking about Pennsylvania’s prison system, which has added 18-lockups since 1980 and currently houses 51,000 inmates. 

Corrections Secretary John Wetzel

PA Secretary of Corrections John Wetzel

Nearly 45% of those who are released will wind up back behind bars within three years.  “We gloss over it by saying, ‘oh, that’s our recidivism rate.’  No.  These are people who are getting out and who are screwing up our community,” says Secretary of Corrections John Wetzel who’s lending his support to the new coalition. 

Wetzel says they’re already making policy changes to make the system more efficient and effective, but they need legislative help too.  “We’re talking about transforming the system to one that is corrections, literally.” 

The group wants to assess an offender’s risk earlier, target resources and programming to those most likely to re-offend and rely on specialty courts as an alternative to incarceration for non-violent offenders. 

Secretary Wetzel is also trying to cut down on long waits to release prisoners who’ve already been paroled.  He says a 100-day delay costs the taxpayers $9,000 dollars per parolee. 

“If any of these things were going to save money, but potentially increase the crime rate, we wouldn’t be having this conversation,” Wetzel explains, as he stresses the goal is to reduce the crime rate.