Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Unshackle prison reform

Burgeoning incarceration costs unsustainable

“With Pennsylvania facing its greatest budget crisis since the Great Depression, we must look for sustainable savings in every nook and cranny of state government, and that includes the criminal-justice system, which is one of the three biggest drivers of increased spending over the past decade,” Wagner said.

More than 19,000 – or 39 percent – of the inmates in Pennsylvania’s prison population are considered nonviolent offenders. Keeping them behind bars makes no sense.

Here are some eye-opening facts that came out of Wagner’s press conference:

* The Department of Corrections’ general fund budget over the past 10 years has increased by $430 million.

* Pennsylvania’s prison population is five times higher now than it was 30 years ago, rising from 8,243 in 1980 to 51,487 in 2010.

* In 2009, Pennsylvania had the fastest-growing prison population in the nation, adding 2,122.

* The annual cost per inmate went from $11,447 in 1980 to $32,059 in 2009.

Wagner is urging state leaders to stop building new prisons (after completion of the four new facilities that have been authorized at a cost of $862 million), step up the use of electronic monitoring, prerelease centers and other alternatives for nonviolent criminals.

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Unshackle prison reform

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