Government Union Jeopardizes Criminal Justice Reform

As Pennsylvania takes a hard look at reforming its criminal justice system, prepare for the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association’s fear-mongering campaign against reducing prison populations.

The officers’ union opposition surfaced in today’s Patriot-News article. The article explains Corrections Secretary John Wetzel’s plan to reduce the inmate population by more than 2,500 next year by making the correction system more efficient. For instance, it can take more than 100 days after an inmate is granted parole until he’s released. Reducing this time would not only free up prison beds, it saves significant tax dollars—an extra 100 days in prison wastes $9,000.    

As the prison population declines, so could the number of correction officers.  From the experience in other states, such as California and New York, self-interested unions have stonewalled meaningful reforms that would chip away at their jobs. 

The claim that reducing the prison population requires releasing violent criminal into the streets—made by the president of the Officers Association—lacks any teeth. Secretary Wetzel isn’t proposing lowering public safety standards or letting dangerous criminals out, but fixing costly inefficiencies in the corrections system.

While bad policies may have led to the explosion in state prison populations, it may be the unions that pose the biggest challenge in getting the inmate numbers down.

Click here for our fact sheet on Corrections Spending.