“We are again in the position where the Department of Corrections must make significant reductions because of the dire budget forecast.”
Thus Corrections Secretary John Wetzel highlights the challenges facing Pennsylvania as the prison population declines and revenue collections cool down.
The Department of Corrections (DOC) and Gov. Wolf announced plans to close two state prisons and reduce the community corrections population 50 percent by June 2017. Citing a decrease in the inmate population and 1,000 open beds in SCI Camp Hill, DOC aims to significantly reduce costs without jeopardizing public safety. The specific prison closures will be announced January 26, with affected prison staff guaranteed positions elsewhere in the department.
While closing prisons sounds gloomy, there is a silver-lining. The commonwealth's prison population is shrinking with no corresponding rise in crime. That's a trend worth celebrating and largely the result of bipartisan reforms we supported in 2012 to reduce recidivism.
The DOC's plan comes on the heels of the Wolf Administration's efforts to streamline government to deal with General Fund collections now $367 million below expectations. The DOC's proactive approach is a nice break from the status quo, which required Pennsylvanians to swallow a $650 million tax hike to fund $1.6 billion in new government spending this past summer.
Lawmakers can build on these cost-savings efforts by embracing innovative ways to protect taxpayers, including additional corrections reform. This is the topic of our latest policy brief, which offers a range of reform ideas to reduce state government's footprint and avoid adding to Pennsylvanians' tax burden.