PA, NJ Seen As Well Positioned for Sentencing Reform


Pennsylvania and New Jersey prison officials say the “get tough on crime” philosophy that has governed prison operations since the early 1980s must change, says the Philadelphia Inquirer. It’s expensive and, in many cases, it’s not working. “The fact that our budget is $1.86 billion has a lot of people rethinking some of the assumptions we’ve made in the past,” said John Wetzel, Pennsylvania’s secretary of corrections. “When we over-incarcerate individuals – and there is a portion of our population that we over-incarcerate – we’re not improving public safety. Quite the opposite.”

Advocates of prison reform say Pennsylvania and New Jersey could be well-positioned for change. Both governors are Republican former prosecutors, credentials that buffer accusations that whittling down the prison population means going “soft” on crime. And Govs. Tom Corbett and Chris Christie have picked corrections chiefs who support a more rehabilitative approach to corrections, a method that, studies show, can reduce recidivism. Wetzel and New Jersey’s corrections commissioner, Gary Lanigan, want to keep nonviolent offenders out of prison, diverting them to drug rehabilitation or other programs instead. “People are realizing that there is a huge cost to incarceration, and there’s ways to do it smarter,” Lanigan said. “There are people who belong in prison and there’s people who are better served in the community.”

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