You Can Spend Less, Get More with Real Corrections Reform

What is it they say about things that are out of sight?  Oh, yes, out of mind.  That might be one of the reasons why our corrections system has become one of our Four Alarms, with skyrocketing costs in both taxpayer dollars and human capital.  But the good news, as highlighted in this Philadelphia Inquirer story on Gov. George Leader, is that real corrections reform could be just around the corner.

Last week, Michael Geer of the Pennsylvania Family Council and I wrote to our state Representatives to encourage them to support the bi-partisan efforts to give us a more efficient and more effective corrections system.  The message is that you can be smart on crime and not sacrifice safety.  Indeed, no one is suggesting that we not punish people who have committed a crime.  And there are some real bad people who should never get out of jail.  But we are saying that there are proven ways to provide both punishment AND correction in less costly and better ways.

Here’s our letter urging support for this critical and path-breaking legislation under consideration this week in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives:

Dear Representative:

It is our pleasure to write you on behalf of the Commonwealth Foundation and Pennsylvania Family Council to encourage you to support Senate Bill 100 (printer number 2258) as amended by the House Judiciary Committee last week.

Pennsylvania’s growing and expensive corrections system can do better for communities, taxpayers and offenders. SB 100 helps do this by replacing Pennsylvania’s ineffective corrections policies with those that lower crime rates, reduce recidivism, and control spending.

SB 100 embraces the following three evidence-based principles:

  • Keep Low-Risk Cases Out of Prisons. Research indicates that while imprisonment keeps offenders from committing crimes in the outside community, it does not deter crimes after release, and may even make low-risk offenders more likely to commit future crimes.
  • Reduce Recidivism. Inmates must be rehabilitated by addressing behavioral and substance abuse issues. Nearly 45 percent of Pennsylvania offenders return to prison after three years. A significant factor is technical parole or probation violations such as breaking curfew, not new crimes.
  • Fund Results, Not Just Punishments. Criminal justice reforms should protect citizens, lower crime rates, and control spending.

Reforming our state corrections system is not being soft on crimeit’s being smart on crime.  Over the past 30 years, Pennsylvania’s incarceration rate exploded by more than 500 percent to more than 50,000 inmates.  As a result, taxpayers spend 17 times as much on the Department of Corrections today as they did in 1980.  At a cost of $35,000 per inmate per year, it is not a stretch to say taxpayers have been ill served by a system that locks up more people for longer periods, but fails to deter future crimes.

The good news is that we can spend less and get better results through real corrections reform, right now.  Please support Senate Bill 100 in its current form.


Matthew J. Brouillette, President & CEO

Commonwealth Foundation

Michael Geer, President

Pennsylvania Family Institute
Pennsylvania Family Council