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Dept. of Corrections: Early Release of Prisoners Saves Money

No increase in department for first time

By Stacy Brown | PA Independent

HARRISBURG — A prison inmate costs Pennsylvania taxpayers about $35,000 a year, or roughly $14,000 more than the annual cost to attend Penn State University with room and board.

And, with Gov. Tom Corbett's proposed flat-level funding of $1.8 billion for the state Department of Corrections, or DOC, officials are seeking ways to be more frugal and efficient, which could mean earlier releases for some inmates. This comes at a time when inmates sent to out-of-state prisons are returning this year to Pennsylvania.

DOC Secretary John Wetzel is expected to appear before the state Senate Appropriations Committee on Monday to discuss Corbett's proposal and the department's plan to run prisons more efficiently."We're not just going to release inmates.

We have people who are ready to be paroled but aren’t released in a timely manner, because the system is inefficient, and that’s a waste of money," said department spokeswoman Sue Bensinger. "We just want to make the process smoother. We are not lowering the bar or changing our policy."

Bensinger said that while violent inmates will remain in custody, nonviolent inmates eligible for parole would be better served in community-based programs, such as drug and alcohol treatment facilities.

While those who have committed crimes such as murder, arson and aggravated assault are considered violent inmates, prisoners incarcerated for drug offenses, theft and white-collar crimes are viewed as nonviolent.

Still, the department must achieve better efficiency as about a third of the cases that come up for parole each day cannot be heard in a timely manner because of a lack of staff, Bensinger said.

Also, if the inmate is granted parole, the current time to process that new status is 101 days, she said.

"That is inefficient," Bensinger said. This inefficiency costs the taxpayer an extra $94.90 each day per inmate, according to the department.

The state currently houses 51,400 inmates, according to the DOC.

State funding to the department represents a 7.4 percent of Corbett's $28 billion budget, including $60 million in annual overtime costs.

Meanwhile, the prisoners sent to Michigan returned last year and those in Virginia are slated to be returned next month, according to the DOC. The decision to transfer inmates to these out-of-state prisons was made in 2010.

The 1,111 inmates sent to Michigan and the 1,010 sent to Virginia were at a cost of $62 per day, or $22,630 per year, a savings of about two-thirds the cost of keeping them here. Currently, it costs $94.90 per day for each inmate to be housed in Pennsylvania, according to the DOC.

Corbett recalled the inmates, because Pennsylvania decided to pay less money to counties in the commonwealth to house nonviolent state prisoners.

County facilities statewide, including Cambria, Beaver, Armstrong and Indiana, have been paid between $47 and $60 per day, per inmate, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Since it started accepting the nonviolent prisoners, Indiana County has earned an extra $1 million per year, said Indiana County Jail Warden Carol Hummel.

"It offsets my budget and goes in to the general fund," she said. "That's the advantage to the county."

Cambria also has earned an additional $1 million per year, while Armstrong took in $321,000 and Beaver raked in $328,000, according to independent calculations based on the number of inmates and the cost.

The state benefits, the warden continued, because it has its prisoners housed somewhere safe and at a lower cost. The inmates can even get some of the programming they need to be able to make parole. "It's been a win-win-win," Hummel said.

Monday's hearing is scheduled for 1 p.m. in the North Office Building of the state Capitol.

 

sara ruff July 09, 2012 at 02:34 AM
my huband had a misdamenor 14 years ago and it was not relevant to this charge.which he got 2-4 years because the law gave someone the incentive and motive to keep there self out of jail.my huband is non-violent and earned 42,000 a year.and we took care of 5 family members.now it is all on me
sara ruff July 09, 2012 at 02:40 AM
if they put the real criminals in jail we would;nt have no more crime or drugs.the law gives people the incentive and power to put innocent people in jail to save them self.they can go on collecting ssi and medical and selling there pills.and they do this repeatatively.i would't of believed it if we would'nt be going through it.so until you walked on this side please don't comment.
lissy January 11, 2013 at 04:13 AM
It's rediculous not everyone should be in there. My husband has been in jail for almost 2 yrs now for a curfew violation yes I said it curfew violation!!! Missed the birth of our daughter and all!!! The system is messed up they need to get the real criminals walking around killing,robbing,raping . Now its a money issue screw the money get the ppl who are in there for petty shit out!!!!!
lissy January 11, 2013 at 04:15 AM
And Eric I totally disagree with u. I wouldn't want my husband bieng mistreated especially not needing to n there anyway.
Gwen April 11, 2013 at 03:40 AM
My husband got a year on a first time offense (nonviolent). Just the other day he told me they weren't sure if they were going to get dinner because there wasn't enough. Three weeks and no visit from a doctor or nurse despite the fact that he is in the medical ward and a diabetic. Talk about mistreatment. By the way, he also got railroaded because he would not snitch. He wouldn't be there if he had. He had a full time job with benefits and has taken care of his family (me and my daughter) for 23 years. He has NEVER been in trouble. Now why couldn't he have gotten work release or some sort of home detention? Everything I read talks about how much the prisons cost the taxpayers, but they also cost the prisoner and the family an arm and a leg. They have to buy everything from toilet paper to t-shirts from the prison. There is a whole lot wrong with this system if you ask me. Now my family is on the verge of bankruptcy and my daughter and I are trying desperately to keep up with the mortgage by ourselves. Because this DA had a hard on to put a man who had a few pills on him, but did not resist arrest and did not have a gun, behind bars. Even the judge couldn't believe that the DA wouldn't work with him. How does this make sense??

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