Government
5:33 pm
Wed April 25, 2012

No Extra Cash for Prisons

The man leading Pennsylvania's prison system says it can handle the governor's proposal to hold the line on the agency's budget.

Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said Pennsylvania's state prisons are enormously inefficient. He said the prison system was set up for major violent offenders, but now, one third of its inmates are short-termers entering a lengthy processing system as if they were major offenders.

As a result, said Wetzel, they end up serving several months longer than their original sentence.

"Not because we need to do that for public safety, but because our system's inefficient," said Wetzel. "That's inexcusable in these budget times when there is no money, and there's not going to be an increase in taxes, so the amount of money is finite until we can grow more jobs."

He said spending can be decreased by focusing on efficiency and reducing population by working with local treatment programs, law enforcement, and changing the way inmates are processed.

"The budget was predicated on a significant reduction in the Department of Corrections," said Wetzel, "and there was some concern that we were going to open the back door and let a bunch of felons out."

Wetzel said help is on the way in the form of a federal program aimed at helping states change how prisons work and are funded. The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections is also looking into privatizing health care in prisons.

Policy recommendations are still several weeks away.