Pennsylvania cut its prison population by more than a thousand inmates last year, a figure equivalent to the population of one entire state prison. It was the largest year-over-year decrease of inmate population on record, said Gov. Tom Wolf, who said the decline “demonstrates that common sense criminal justice reforms work and bolsters the case for expanding reforms.” The 2.2 percent reduction left the prison population at 47,370, the lowest in about a decade and just above 2007 levels, reports Philly.com. The number of prisoners newly sentenced to state prison fell by 617 compared with 2017, while the number of parole violators declined by 575. Wolf and Corrections Secretary John Wetzel cited diversion for technical violators made possible by the consolidation of the Department of Corrections and the state parole board, which Wolf did by executive order.
The Commonwealth Foundation, a free market think tank, said the inmate decline was part of a trend tracking Pennsylvania’s Justice Reinvestment Initiative, a package of legislation designed to reduce prison spending that passed in 2012, when the population was at more than 51,000 inmates. A second legislative package failed to pass in the last session. It was projected to further reduce the prison population through changes such as automatically paroling certain prisoners on their minimum sentence dates if they had behaved well in prison. The savings would be reinvested in funding probation and parole to reduce recidivism. “Only a decade ago, Pennsylvania was shipping inmates to other states because of overcrowding,” Wetzel said. Now, Delaware is paying Pennsylvania $40,000 per day to house 330 prisoners at Camp Hill state prison under a two-year agreement.