Fewer Inmates, but Still Overpopulated
Inmate population in the commonwealth's prisons dropped dramatically since 2011. A decrease of 454 incarcerated individuals marks the biggest one-year drop in 42 years.
It's only the third time in 40 years that the state saw a decrease in prisoners rather than an increase. Susan McNaughton, Pennsylvania Department of Corrections spokeswoman, said the numbers show 2012's Justice Reinvestment Initiative efforts are working and improving in the state's prison system.
"Justice Reinvestment is about making sure that individuals enter into the right part of the corrections continuum," McNaughton said. "So, there are individuals who may need incarceration but it may be at a county level rather than a state level, or there may be individuals who need treatment rather than incarceration."
Reforming the parole system was another part of the Reinvestment Initiative to make Pennsylvania corrections' processes more efficient. There was a 43% increase in parole board interviews for the calendar year. McNaughton said the efforts are making sure the right inmates are being seen by the parole board.
"I don't want people to think that we're releasing people for the sake of releasing them," McNaughton said. "These are individuals who are eligible for parole but were sitting in the system for a long time, and we're paying $90 a day for these individuals to sit in a state prison system that really wasn't necessary."
McNaughton added the trend for inmate population should continue to decrease, but admitted the facilities are still slightly over occupied.
"Over time with these diversionary programs, we're going to see a reduction of the number of people coming into the system [and] with the parole processes and the D.O.C. processes being improved internally we're going to see people getting out when they're supposed to and we'll see a reduction in the population that way," McNaughton said. "We'll see people moving through the system like they should be rather than backlogging."
McNaughton said the department is preparing a report on recidivism and how that affects inmate population. That report is expected to be completed within a few months.