Pennsylvania is preparing to embark on a major prison-construction blitz that will cost more than $800 million, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. The four new prisons can’t be completed fast enough to meet the need for new cells – a situation that has forced corrections officials to find alternate ways to allay overcrowding concerns. They have retrofitted free space such as dayrooms into makeshift cells and have trucked in portable, trailer-like dormitories for added capacity. They began sending some inmates to county prisons and are now considering shipping others to out-of-state lockups.
Taken as a whole, Pennsylvania’s efforts at dealing with overcrowding are among the most resourceful of any state in the nation, said George Camp, a national prison expert based in Connecticut. Pennsylvania has 50,957 inmates, while its system of 27 prisons has an official capacity of 43,200. While the state’s inmate population has been on the rise for decades, overcrowding concerns were compounded last year when Pennsylvania instituted stiffer parole practices after a parolee killed a Philadelphia police officer. As a result, Pennsylvania began sending low-level inmates to county prisons. So far, 234 of them have been housed in local jails, and Beard said he envisioned that number to more than triple, to 900, by next year.