John Wetzel

Jacqueline Larma / AP

Over 2,600 inmates at an 89-year-old Pennsylvania prison are being transferred to a new, long-delayed facility about a mile down the road.

The first phase of transfers began just after 9 a.m. Wednesday from the state prison at Graterford to the sprawling, $400 million complex at SCI Phoenix, according to a statement from the Department of Corrections.

Several hundred inmates will be moved each day, for however long it takes to complete the operation, officials said. They didn't add how long they expected the move to take. On Wednesday, most were moved by van.

Keith Srakocic / AP

Pennsylvania Corrections Secretary John Wetzel began his criminal justice career in 1989, just as the commonwealth's prison population began to balloon.

It was the beginning of America's mass incarceration era -- one that Wetzel said his office is only now beginning to reverse.

Associated Press

The state House has passed a bill to keep certain drug and violent crime offenders in prison longer.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

District attorneys from Allegheny, Butler and Washington counties are calling on legislators to restore mandatory minimum sentences for certain crimes.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court invalidated mandatory minimum sentences in 2015, saying criminal defendants did not know the potential sentence they faced until after conviction. Offenders knew their punishment carried at least a fixed punishment time and prosecutors used that to leverage information from an offender.

Jobs for Felons Hub / flickr

The U.S. Department of Education has revamped a higher education program for prisoners, and four schools in the Commonwealth have been selected to participate. Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Villanova, Bloomsburg University and the Lehigh Carbon Community College will create the curriculum to educate prisoners selected for the grants under the new Second Chance Pell Grant pilot.

Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA

In the eight months without a state budget, Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel is calling for service providers to back Governor Tom Wolf’s proposed funding of early education.

Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel has been named to a national task force that will examine the criminal justice system, and most importantly, the issue of overcrowding in federal prisons.

Wetzel will begin work in January with eight other corrections officials on the Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections. The blue ribbon task force will undertake a comprehensive analysis of how to avert the continued growth of the federal prison population.  

Heather McClain / 90.5 WESA

John Wetzel, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, is responsible for the state prison system, from inmates, to employees, to a budget of nearly $2 billion. And he's trying to take a holistic approach to the corrections system.

With more than 20 years of experience in the corrections industry, he's part of a sentencing commission that's developing tools to help trial judges better assess the risks and needs of offenders.

He says the key to that assessment is looking at the root causes of crime.

"Based on the number of prior arrests, the age of the offender, based on a bunch of other factors, we can predict the likelihood that the individual will commit another crime."

By looking at these "criminogenic needs," or needs that lead to crime, and by using cognitive therapy and other programming, Wetzel says offenders can learn to make better decisions, think differently and reduce their likelihood to commit future crimes.