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March 8, 2009

A picture of prison economy problems in Pennsylvania

Today's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has this effective article on the prison economy realities.  The piece, which has this accompanying graphic, is headlined "Rendell's prison plan could lock him up in costly quandary: Increased budget likely to cause inmate population to swell."  Here are a few excerpts:

The nation's economic crisis has put a damper on most new construction, but there's one area where building is booming like it's 1999 — prisons. 

Pennsylvania's state correctional facilities are at 114 percent of capacity and several construction projects are in the works to meet demands for space.  Gov. Ed Rendell's proposed budget includes more than $1.8 billion for the Department of Corrections, a nearly 10 percent increase dedicated mostly to construction and increased staffing....

The Rendell budget proposal for fiscal year 2009-2010 also increases funding for the Board of Probation and Parole, which plans to use the money to hire more field agents.  But the 8.3 percent increase brings the department's budget to $99.2 million, less than one-eighteenth of Department of Corrections spending.

Even the DOC agrees that bringing down the prison population ... is a good idea.  But as Mr. Rendell's parole quandary suggests, it isn't easy politically or logistically.

In September, a parolee shot and killed a Philadelphia police officer a month after his release from prison, where he had been serving a sentence for a 1998 robbery and aggravated assault.  After the killing, Mr. Rendell imposed a moratorium on all parole in the state, causing prison populations to spike.  He lifted the moratorium for nonviolent offenders in October, then for violent offenders in January.

The 11-member Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing is looking at reforming parole guidelines, but legislators might tackle a sweeping reform of their own — a mandate that repeat violent offenders serve out their maximum sentences. A bill is still in the drafting stages, but Mr. Rendell already has voiced support for such a measure.

While getting tougher on violent offenders -- classified as people convicted of murder, manslaughter, rape, aggravated assault, robbery, theft or arson — policymakers are looking at ways to get nonviolent offenders out from behind bars....

Department statistics show a sharp rise in the number of nonviolent offenders in the prisons. In 2008 nonviolent offenders comprised 41 percent of the prison population, with 44 percent classified as violent (the rest are parole violators).  In 2002, it was 51 percent violent, 30 percent nonviolent.

DOC spokeswoman Susan McNaughton pointed to tougher sentences — including mandatory minimums — for gun and drug convictions as contributors to the rise of nonviolent prisoners. For example, a first-time conviction for trafficking more than 10 grams of cocaine carries a mandatory three-year minimum sentence.

Rep. Tom Caltagirone, D-Berks, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, said he wants to take a hard look at mandatory minimums, but it's difficult to gain support from legislators wary of being labeled as soft on crime. "We have all these stupid mandatories," Mr. Caltagirone said. "It's a knee-jerk reaction: 'We're going to get all the bad guys off the street.' ... "The violent offenders — repeat, serious offenders — absolutely we need to lock them up.  But do we need to lock up everybody?"

March 8, 2009 at 03:30 PM | Permalink

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Another mug shot for the police blotter known as business in America.

Posted by: free legal will kit | Mar 9, 2009 3:15:05 AM

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