Radio PA Roundtable – December 5-7, 2014

On this week’s Radio PA Roundtable, the overdose antidote Naloxone is now on the streets, in the hands of first responders and anyone who has a loved one prone to opioid/heroin overdose; state prison inmates are getting a break on their phone bills; and we revisit a conversation we had in 2010 with a man who witnessed the attack on Pearl Harbor first-hand, a true American hero – USAF Major (Retired) Hank Heim.

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

Click the audio player below to hear the full broadcast:

Radio PA Roundtable – October 24, 2014

On this week’s Radio PA Roundtable, Pennsylvania First Lady Susan Corbett talks about her “Opening Doors” initiative and we look back at the 1989 Camp Hill prison, which was playing out 25 years ago this weekend.

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

Click the audio player below to hear the full broadcast:

State Wants to Shutter Two Prisons As It Opens A New One

Pennsylvania wants to close two of its older prisons in the western part of the state and move many of the inmates to a newly built facility.  The plan is an effort to save money and shift capacity.

Corrections Secretary John Wetzel says closing the State Correctional Institutions at Cresson and Greensburg is a matter of replacing old capacity with new capacity.  Many of the inmates would be transferred to the newly built SCI Benner in Centre County as well as a new 300 bed housing unit at SCI Pine Grove in Indiana County.

Wetzel says the move is expected to save about 23 million in the next fiscal year.  He says the decision is the next step in the state’s efforts to reform the system.

Wetzel says the question was whether to expand capacity or keep it the same.  The recent drop in prison population was part of the decision to keep capacity the same.  They hope to complete the process by June 30th, before the state of fiscal 2013-14.

More than 800 corrections officers and other employees would be affected by the closings. The corrections secretary says they will be offered transfers to other prisons. A hiring freeze in anticipation of the move has resulted in 700 vacancies in addition to jobs that will be created with the opening of Benner.

Roy Pinto, President of the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association, says he’s offended the state would be working on such a plan all these months without mentioning a word.   The union questions inmate population and savings figures and is reviewing its next step, which could include a suit or a grievance.  He says the plan needs to be properly and publicly vetted.

Pinto says transferring staff is not as easy as it sounds. He says you’re talking about uprooting families and people who have bought homes and moving them around the state.   The association also questions the impact on the economies of the affected communities in Greensburg and Cresson.

Jerry Sandusky is currently locked up in the Centre County Correctional Facility. He will appeal the conviction.

Sandusky Assigned “Home” Prison

Jerry Sandusky will serve out his 30 – 60 year sentence in the southwestern corner of Pennsylvania, at the State Correctional Institution at Greene.  Located in Waynesburg, SCI Greene houses nearly 1,800 inmates, but state corrections officials say Sandusky will be placed in protective custody to ensure his safety. 

It means Sandusky will have no bunkmate, additional supervision and an escort every time he leaves his cell.  He’ll get three showers a week, and one hour of individual exercise five days a week.  All meals will be served in his cell.  All visits will be non-contact.     

The once-famed assistant football coach was convicted on 45 of 48 counts of child sex abuse in June.  He received his sentence earlier this month and has spent the past few weeks at a suburban Harrisburg prison where he was undergoing evaluations.

No Immediate Decision from Pardons Board

Pennsylvania’s five-member Board of Pardons voted 4 – 1 this morning to hear new arguments in the clemency application of a condemned killer from Philadelphia.  The hearing has concluded and the case has been taken under advisement. 

The board’s recommendation must be unanimous in order for the governor to be able to commute Terrance Williams’ sentence to life in prison without parole.  “With regard to a pardon or commutation, the governor at this point in time has no authority,” says Executive Deputy General Counsel Linda Hoffa. 

The board previously voted 3 – 2 for clemency last week.   

The only unilateral authority the governor has is to issue a temporary reprieve, but Hoffa says case law calls for it to be tied to a pending proceeding.  “It should not be open-ended and vague,” Hoffa explained to reporters on Wednesday.    

46-year-old Terrance “Terry” Williams was convicted in the beating death of Amos Norwood in 1986, the death penalty was imposed in 1987, and his appeals have been exhausted. 

However, Williams’ attorneys are now arguing that their client had been sexually abused by the man he murdered.  A Philadelphia judge has been hearing the new evidence, and is scheduled to rule on a stay of execution tomorrow. 

For now, Williams is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection at State Correctional Institution at Rockview on October 3rd. If it is carried out it would be the state’s first execution since 1999, and the first execution involving a prisoner who had not given up his right to appeal since 1962.    

As major decisions loom in Harrisburg and Philadelphia, Williams remains locked up on the other end of the state, at SCI Greene.

Pennsylvania Corrections Secretary Says SB 100 is Essential

In budget hearings before the state senate this week, Pennsylvania’s corrections secretary called a bill pending before the house an essential piece of the budget.  Senate Bill 100 provides prison reforms aimed at non violent offenders, including risk assessment and alternative sentencing.

Corrections Commissioner John Wetzel says a piece of their budget involves getting smarter on crime and making better decisions based on data. He says the bill is a vehicle to be able to insert the outcomes of justice reinvestment.    The justice reinvestment initiative is looking at ways to reduce corrections spending and funnel the savings into strategies that can increase public safety.

Wetzel says the state has programs that are not being fully utilized. He says the State Intermediate Punishment Program has tremendous results, but it’s only being used 20% of the time when offenders are eligible. He says it has been shown to reduce recidivism. The overall recidivism rate is about 44%, but the rate for people in the SIP program is 18%.

Wetzel says they’ve been making progress on what they can control, and SB 100 will give them more tools.