Pa. Official Proposes Prison Construction Freeze
By Helen Christophi (02/02/2011)

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Pennsylvania Auditor General Jack Wagner has proposed a freeze on new prison construction and reducing the number of inmates to save the cash-strapped state $350 million over the next four years.

To reduce the prison population, Wagner is asking Gov. Tom Corbett and the General Assembly to implement several reforms, including the release of non-violent offenders and better use of an alternative-sentencing program. Providing halfway housing, drug abuse counseling, and more leniency for minor parole violations instead of incarcerating offenders would save the state $50 million next year alone, said Wagner.

Wagner noted that 39 percent of Pennsylvania’s prison population is composed of non-violent offenders at a cost that has tripled over the past 30 years. If the state finds ways to provide offenders more opportunities on the outside, it will save money on inmate housing and eliminate the need to build additional correctional space.

Pennsylvania had the fastest-growing prison population in the country in 2009, a result, according to Wagner, of tougher sentencing guidelines for non-violent crimes, and the state’s prison population has increased by 524 percent over the past 30 years. According to the state-sponsored Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing, the primary cause for the increase was the introduction of mandatory minimums for certain types of drug crimes.

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