An Examination of Recidivism and Pennsylvania’s Growing Prison System

If you ask John Wetzel, the Secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Corrections, he’ll tell you he wants to see a much smaller prison population. Wetzel, who currently oversees the more than 50,000 inmates in PA’s prison system, says that corrections costs are out of control and recidivism is to blame.

Inmates and Budgets by the Numbers

There are currently 16,200 employees within PA’s Department of Corrections, who work in the state’s 26 prison camps, 14 half-way houses, and a boot camp. It now costs more than $2 billion each year to maintain the current system, which boils down to about $34,700 in taxpayer dollars per inmate.

In Pennsylvania 6 out of 10 inmates are re-incarcerated or rearrested, a number that hasn’t budged for at least 10 years. Currently, about 10 percent of all arrests involve released state inmates. Wetzel says that rate is simply unacceptable.

Adding insult to injury, the sudden closing of prisons in Greensburg and Cresson shocked many corrections officers, who said that many of them found about the closing from inmates. The more than 600 correctional officers working in these facilities were not notified about the closings until one hour before the state made their official announcement.

Implementing Reward Systems for Corrections Centers

Wetzel said that recently enacted reforms that push nonviolent inmates quickly through the system, making them eligible for early release, has helped reduce the prison population slightly, but that the bigger problems remains with recidivism.  Wetzel said that incentives for prisoners to halfway houses with programs to keep inmates from reoffending should be implemented more often.

There are currently about 50 community corrections centers throughout the state, all of which must meet or exceed their performance targets for keeping felons from re-offending. Exceeding performance goals leads to bonuses for these centers. However, these centers must also ensure that their recidivism rate does not increase or be subject to penalties.