With Pennsylvania’s prison costs continuing to rise, state Auditor General Jack Wagner urged the legislature to approve a Republican senator’s bill that would make it easier to send non-violent offenders to alternative-sentencing programs, reports the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Wagner issued a report on the 500 percent growth in Pennsylvania’s prison population from 8,243 in 1980 to 51,487 in 2010. In 2009, Pennsylvania had the highest number of new inmates — 2,122 — of any state.
The cost per inmate nearly tripled from $11,477 in 1980 to $32,059 in 2009, Wagner said. The overall cost to taxpayers increased during the past 10 years from $1.17 billion to $1.6 billion, a 37 percent increase. As the state faces a $4 billion to $5 billion budget deficit, it’s imperative that lawmakers consider reductions in Department of Corrections spending, which historically has been sacrosanct, Wagner said. The proposed Criminal Justice Reform Act allows the state to more quickly move non-violent offenders with short sentences to community corrections centers such as halfway houses. More non-violent offenders would be eligible for the centers and the state’s boot camp.