Last week, PCN’s Call In Program featured a great discussion with PA Corrections Sec. John Wetzel. The Secretary is committed to both saving money and improving safety by making sure people entering Pennsylvania’s prisons are less likely to commit a crime after they leave.
For the first time in a decade, the Department of Corrections is not seeking an increased budget.
Flat funding is possible in part to cost-saving initiatives and partnering with the PA Board of Probation and Parole. None of these initiatives cut corners, but rather fix system inefficiencies. One example is the “food tickets” the department now implements. Providing inmates with a meal ticket that gets punched for meals prevents inmates from getting multiple dinners a night. Some facilities have saved $20,000 a month and one facility saved 700 meals a day!
However, some legislative action is required for the DOC to maintain flat funding. One reform Sec. Wetzel advocates is expanding the eligibility for nonviolent offenders with substance abuse to be treated at the successful State Intermediate Punishment (SIP) program. While 45 percent of released inmates are reincarcerated within three years, that number drops to 18% if they completed SIP.
Senate Bill 100, which would treat nonviolent offenders with drug and alcohol problems, is the vehicle Sec. Wetzel sees for accomplishing this. SB 100 passed the Senate unanimously last October and currently sits in the House Judiciary committee.