At yesterday's House Appropriations Committee, Department of Corrections Sec. John Wetzel explained his roadmap to reducing corrections spending, now the third-largest department in the General Fund Budget.
What was the number one issue that kept coming up? Prison nurses. Sec. Wetzel has asked vendors to provide prices for nursing services in state prisons. Currently, most of the prison nurses are government employees.
There's a reason the word "privatization" appears to carry the weight of the plague to these politicians: Union opposition. As CF's Priya Abraham highlighted in the new report, The Squeeze: Government Unions' Grip on Pennsylvanians, government unions have become a powerful force through lobbying, political activity and legal privileges.
The nursing union's argument, repeated at yesterday's hearing, defies common sense. Claiming that outsourcing nursing puts "safety" at risk is an insult to the upstanding private nurses who already work in two state corrections institutions, SCI Chester and SCI Pine Grove. Moreover, are these legislators implying that the majority of prison physicians, a service that has been outsourced for years, are incapable because they're not government staff?
Sec. Wetzel is not considering lowering the quality of nursing services in prisons nor is he attacking current state nurses. As the Secretary explained, a private vendor would be required to provide the current scope of services offered and encouraged to hire current staff, and all nurses would still be required to go through proper training to work in prisons.
Sec. Wetzel is comparing options in order to prioritize every tax dollar spent on corrections. He should be commended for this and the overall work he's doing to improve Pennsylvania's prisons while upholding a high standard of public safety.