Bills allowing early release of some Pennsylvania prisoners to rein in costs and tackle the growing problem of overcrowding in state and county prisons were signed by Gov. Ed Rendell, says the Philadelphia Inquirer. One law gives nonviolent offenders the option, at sentencing, of early release from prison if they complete educational and job-training programs and demonstrate good behavior while behind bars. People serving time on drug and petty-theft charges would be among those eligible. Prisoners serving more than two-year sentences will be housed in state prisons rather than county jails, which for years have struggled to keep up with the costs of housing longer-term inmates.
Advocates believe the legislation makes some of the most sweeping changes to Pennsylvania’s sentencing guidelines in more than a decade.. William DiMascio, executive director of the Pennsylvania Prison Society, said while the bills were groundbreaking for Pennsylvania, many of the programs they advocate had been in place in other states for decades. He said the changes were necessary to defuse the problem of the state’s costly and overcrowded prison system. The state Department of Corrections this fiscal year received $1.7 billion in state funding – about 6 percent of Pennsylvania’s budget.