A newly formed panel of judges, lawmakers, state cabinet members, and other officials has been charged with finding ways to reduce spending on Pennsylvania's corrections system while increasing public safety.
Governor Tom Corbett this week launched the Justice Reinvestment Initiative by calling on the panel members to look at the numbers.
"We look to you to come with solutions to make our system better," Corbett said. "I expect this initiative will help reduce further our crime rate, decrease recidivism, and manage corrections spending more efficiently."
The group will be led by Mark Zimmer, chairman of the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, and Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel. Over the next several months, the panel will hear from prosecutors, public defenders, victims' advocates, and treatment providers, and will receive support services from LeAnn Labecki, Director of the Office of Research, Evaluation, and Strategic Policy Development.
Labecki said budget cutting across the nation is one of the reasons to reevaluate spending on corrections. Similar reinvestment programs have shown success in 15 other states.
"As states and counties across the United States are being forced to make painful budget cuts across all areas of government and protect essential public safety investments, this is an approach that has emerged as an effective way to look at effective spending and policy decision making around criminal justice," she said.
According to the Council of State Governments Justice Center, between 2000 and 2010, the number of people sent to prison in Pennsylvania rose by 46 percent, with much of that growth due to increases in the number of people convicted of property and drug offenses serving relatively short minimum sentences. During that decade the annual Department of Corrections budget increased from $1.1 billion to $1.9 billion.
A 2011 study indicated that recidivism has declined, but still 44 percent of paroled prisoners were re-incarcerated within three years.
The Justice Reinvestment Initiative is designed to:
- Develop policy options to reduce the costs of corrections
- Improve offender accountability
- Reinvest a portion of the savings into the justice system to further reduce corrections spending
- Reinvest a portion of the savings into the community to prevent crime