RadioPA Roundtable

Radio PA Roundtable 03.08.13

On this week’s Radio PA Roundtable, Matt Paul takes us inside the final budget hearing of the three week cycle.  Lawmakers and Governor Tom Corbett now have three and a half months to work out a compromise before the June 30th state budget deadline. 

We’ll also get an update on the first confirmed cases of CWD in hunter-killed deer in Pennsylvania, and flesh out the Department of Corrections 2013 Recidivism Report.

Radio PA Roundtable is a 30-minute program featuring in-depth reporting on the top news stories of the week.

Click the audio player below to hear the full broadcast:


Corrections Secretary Focused on Outcomes

‘Corrections’ is a literal term for Secretary John Wetzel.  That’s why he told the House Appropriations Committee the Department of Corrections new recidivism study accounts for both re-incarcerations and rearrests.  “We need to focus our corrections system on outcomes, and our outcomes mean people getting out and doing the right thing,” Wetzel explains, “So that’s why our [recidivism] number is 62.7%, because it includes everything.” 

The numbers contained in the new report are being used as a baseline to improve the system moving forward.  Wetzel says their new contracts with private halfway houses will be performance based, with incentives for reducing recidivism.  Internally, he says improvement starts by better assessing offenders’ needs and better use of state & county-level diversionary programs. 

Between efficiencies that have already been identified and the new prison reforms signed into law last year, Wetzel projects a reduction of 3,600 state prison inmates over the next five years. 

That means additional prison closures are going to be a part of the budget conversation in Pennsylvania for many years to come.  And Secretary Wetzel is still dealing with the fallout from the recent decision to close SCI Greensburg and SCI Cresson later this year. 

State Rep. Deberah Kula called it a “debacle.”  Responding to Kula’s questions at Monday’s budget hearing, Wetzel said 85% of the affected employees have already accepted transfers within the system, and 80% of them will be stationed within 60-miles of their homes. 

Corrections Secretary John Wetzel

John Wetzel

“Not minimizing the impact it has on staff members… this is what saving money in corrections looks like,” Wetzel said in reference to inmate populations driving prison closures. 

Secretary Wetzel has committed to working with the House & Senate Judiciary committees to develop prison closure protocols moving forward.

RadioPA Roundtable

Radio PA Roundtable 01.25.13

On this week’s Radio PA Roundtable, Brad Christman & Matt Paul have a preview of Governor Tom Corbett’s budget address, which is set for February 5th.  Also, Franklin & Marshall College political science professor Terry Madonna looks ahead to President Obama’s 2nd term, and we’ll recap this week’s legislative hearing on the planned closure of two state prisons in western PA. 

Radio PA Roundtable is a 30-minute program featuring in-depth reporting on the top news stories of the week.

Click the audio player below to hear the full broadcast:


Prison Closure Process Criticized

As the Department of Corrections moves forward with plans to close two prisons in western Pennsylvania, what many described as a “hasty” process was put under the microscope at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. 

“We were planning in-house to try to do it in the best manner, but there really isn’t a playbook, and the way that the staff found out – primarily by TV – is just inappropriate,” Corrections Secretary John Wetzel acknowledged to the committee.  “That’s my responsibility.” 

Earlier this month, Wetzel’s department announced that SCI Cresson and SCI Greensburg are scheduled to close by June 30th.  These aging facilities would be replaced by SCI Benner in Centre County. 

But the decision blindsided the 800 employees at those two facilities.  “You’re asking people to move their entire lives, and to make a big change, and you’re giving them – I don’t know – 11-days to make a decision,” lamented Senator Kim Ward (R-Westmoreland), who believes the workers are being treated terribly.   

More than 560-positions will be available at SCI Benner.  Wetzel says the balance of interested employees will be given the opportunity to transfer elsewhere in the state prison system. 

“I suggest that we delay these shutdowns, for at least a year, until we can get everybody in position,” Senator Jim Brewster (D-Westmoreland) said to a rare smattering of applause in the Senate hearing room.   

But delays too would have their own negative consequences, according to Secretary Wetzel, who points out the decisions is scheduled to save the state $23-million dollars a year starting with the new state budget.

Hubert Michael Avoids Thursday Execution

Hubert Michael, Junior, who was convicted for the brutal 1993 murder of a 16-year old girl in York County, sat in Rockview State Prison in Centre County last night as his death warrant expired. Last night’s scheduled execution was headed off by a stay issued by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals earlier in the day which was later upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court just hours before the death warrant expired at midnight.

Even after the Thursday afternoon stay was issued, Pennsylvania Department of Corrections officials continued to prepare for the execution while the state filed an emergency appeal. Michael was transported to the state prison at Rockview early Thursday morning and became “somewhat emotional” during the trip, according to Corrections officials. Once at Rockview, Michael refused a final meal, met with his attorney and his spiritual advisor, read a newspaper, listened to the radio and waited. He was quiet and polite throughout the day according to Department of Corrections spokesperson Susan McNaughton.

Outside the prison, a small group of protesters braved the chill of a November evening. Kathleen Lucas of the group Pennsylvanians For Alternatives to the Death Penalty said she traveled to Rockview because she opposed the state committing murder in her name. Lucas wants Pennsylvania to abolish the death penalty in favor of life sentences for murder. Another protester, a Penn State freshman, called Hubert Michael a “victim.”

Michael was convicted of the murder of 16-year old Trista Eng of Dillsburg. Prosecutors proved that Michael picked Eng up along the side of a road as she was walking to work in 1993. He took her to a remote area where she was shot three times. Prosecutors said there was also evidence of sexual assault. The body was dumped on state game lands near Dillsburg. The remains were discovered after Michael confessed the killing to his brother. The only motive uncovered involved Michael’s anger at being charged with rape in another unrelated case. He chose Eng at random, according to authorities who investigated the case.

The decision by the Supreme Court to uphold the stay was announced just a few hours before midnight. Until that point, Corrections officials said that the execution could begin as late as 11:59pm. It was originally scheduled for 7:00pm before the stay was issued early in the afternoon.

A new death warrant will have to be issued after the latest round of court battles is fought.