After a fivefold increase in its prison population over the past 30 years, Pennsylvania’s inmate bubble has ended or is in an extended lull, reports the Harrisburg Patriot-News. After a year-end high of 51,487 inmates in 2009, the state's prison population has remained relatively stable for the past three years. The paper says prison reforms enacted this year will have a chance to reduce the population further, saving the state millions during a time of unprecedented budget pressures.
After a decade in which prison funding was one of the fastest-growing segments of the state budget, this year the Department of Corrections budget was level-funded. Costs for salaries and benefits continue to rise, so a reduction in population was essentially written into the budget, well before any legislative changes were expected to kick in. The most recent population numbers — 51,260 inmates — indicate a fairly steady, though modest decline since the new fiscal year started in June. Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said, “I feel we're headed in the right direction.”