HARRISBURG – Last year, Department of Corrections (DOC) officials reported the first significant decrease in the inmate population since 1971. At the end of 2013, officials discovered that the state’s prison system has experienced the smallest increase in the inmate population growth, all while the state’s crime rate remained flat.
“This is the smallest increase for the 24 years preceding this administration,” Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said. “During that time, the growth averaged 1,500 inmates per year.”
“We came here with a vision for corrections in Pennsylvania – not just to reform the prison system, but to transform how we respond to crime. This slowest growth in the population signals a great first step for our vision,” Gov. Tom Corbett said.
“Our goal for our entire corrections system is to ensure a safer Pennsylvania both today and tomorrow. Today, by the way we operate our correctional facilities and oversee offenders in the community; and tomorrow, by reducing the future criminality of those who come through our system,” Corbett said.
Upon taking office, Wetzel said that the governor set his sights on reducing corrections spending and reinvesting those funds into strategies, programs and services that make Pennsylvania’s communities safer.
“Previously, Pennsylvania had been experiencing a rapid acceleration of its state prison population for several decades,” Wetzel said. “In fact, the DOC’s population climbed steadily to a point where it looked as though Pennsylvania was going to have to build one new state prison each year just to keep up with the growth.”
“Initially, we began this administration focused on improving internal processes and improving efficiency. Then, the Justice Reinvestment Initiative passed in 2012, which began to shift policy,” Wetzel said.
Wetzel said the DOC experienced a big drop in 2012. In 2013, a slight increase was experienced. While the increase was less than the drop in 2013, it was attributable to changes made to the community corrections system and to focusing on improving outcomes in that system.
“All of this leads us to being very optimistic that we are well on our way to a significant population reduction,” Wetzel said.
“Instead of an early projected population growth of more than 3,500 inmates, the DOC only has experienced a growth of a total of 191 inmates between January 2011 and December 2013,” Wetzel said.
“Along with changes implemented thanks to the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, fewer court commitments combined with policy changes that enable Pennsylvania to both reduce spending and increase public safety are continuing to take shape, Wetzel added.
“This is an exciting time in Pennsylvania’s corrections history,” Wetzel said. “We look forward to continuing our work in this area and through providing evidence-based programs that work to change offenders from being tax burdens into law-abiding tax payers.”