Is Pennsylvania Spending Wisely On Prisons?



The economic crisis has put a damper on most new construction, but there’s one area in Pennsylvania where building is booming like it’s 1999 — prisons, says the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Pennsylvania correctional facilities are at 114 percent of capacity and several construction projects are in the works. Gov. Ed Rendell’s proposed budget includes more than $1.8 billion for the Department of Corrections, a nearly 10 percent hike mostly for construction and staffing. A new report from the Pew Center on the States maintains that such spending is folly, especially under budget constraints.

The report recommends that states devote more resources to the far-less-costly options of probation and parole. Rep. Tom Caltagirone, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, wants to take a hard look at mandatory minimum sentences that are helping fill the prisons, but it’s difficult to gain support from legislators wary of being labeled as soft on crime. “We have all these stupid mandatories,” he said. “It’s a knee-jerk reaction: ‘We’re going to get all the bad guys off the street.’ “

The average spending per inmate per day in Pennsylvania was $97.72 last year — more than triple the cost from 25 years ago. The number of inmates in the state is expected to rise from 49,000 at the start of this year to nearly 58,000 by the end of 2013. 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. The 8.3 percent increase brings the department’s budget to $99.2 million, less than one-eighteenth of Department of Corrections spending.

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