Gov. Tom Wolf and Corrections Secretary John Wetzel Tuesday announced Pennsylvania's state inmate population decreased by nearly 850 inmates in 2015, which represents the greatest one-year decline in population over the last 40 years.
The announcement is the capstone to a year of accomplishment for the system under Governor Wolf's leadership. DOC has made smart population and recidivism reduction as well as creating efficiencies to save taxpayer dollars even greater priorities.
"With fewer people coming into the system, fewer people returning to the system, and a continued level of smart and fair parole releases, our population is declining and we continue to move in the right direction," Gov. Wolf said. "I applaud Secretary Wetzel for his leadership in all he is doing to make our system more effective, efficient and fair.
"It costs about $41,000 to incarcerate an offender per year in the state prison system. We need to make sure that we are spending these taxpayer dollars on those offenders who require that level of incarceration and not wasting money that could be used for education or job creation, which will both ultimately keep more people out of prison."
Corrections Secretary John Wetzel credited Gov. Tom Wolf and his administration for these changes. The year-end inmate population figures show a decrease of 842 inmates during calendar year 2015, which coupled with last year's decrease, is proof that our prison reform movement is advancing in a positive direction, Wetzel said. DOC also reports that its population has decreased by a total of 1,598 offenders over the past two years.
"This year, the DOC worked with the governor's office to set a population reduction target of 250 inmates," Wetzel said. "We have far exceeded that target and are expecting reductions of equal or greater amounts in future years."
"Work in this area serves offenders better, and it also continues to reduce the state's population and ultimately reduce the cost associated with state incarceration," Wetzel said. "For years, we have said that offenders require treatment more so than a lengthy, expensive stay in the state prison system. Finally, offenders are getting the treatment they need at a more-appropriate level of the criminal justice system. This ensures appropriate treatment and saves the expensive state prison space for the more violent offenders - those that truly should be separated from society."
DOC's population numbers also reflect individuals participating in the State Intermediate Punishment (SIP) program and technical parole violators who serve time in a community corrections center. When only considering the in-prison population, the number of inmates in prison actually dropped by 918 in 2015.
The total population drop of 842 in 2015 is larger than the total drop of 756 from 2014 and DOC's 2015 population of 49,914 is the lowest that it has been since March 2009.
The Commonwealth began its criminal justice reform in 2012 with the enactment of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative. Work in this area, specifically the reduction in the state prison inmate population, has resulted in the state now being able to reinvest some of the money saved back into the county level.
"The reality is that there is still much work to be done and we can do even more to not only spend millions less on our prisons and more on creating jobs and education," Gov. Wolf said. "But we can keep more people out of the system – through diversion programs and increased opportunity – and ensure that offenders more prepared to re-enter society with skills and a purpose to not return."
In 2015, Gov. Tom Wolf encouraged Department of Corrections' use of performance-based contracts that hold vendors accountable for the programs they provide, the DOC announced an overall recidivism reduction of 11.3 percent in the community corrections system.
In addition to community corrections recidivism reduction, the DOC in 2015 also announced exciting statistics that show a decrease in the six-month, one-year and three-year recidivism rates. The latest three-year and six-month rates are the lowest ever recorded, and the one-year rate is by far the largest drop from the previous year (a total drop of 5.3 percentage points).
Gov. Wolf also led an effort within the Department of Corrections to drastically expand their work in combating opioid addiction among inmates, including new treatment to help inmates reduce their reliance on substance and ensure they have coverage for health services after their release.
Also, in 2015, every DOC employee was trained in Mental Health First Aid; the DOC established an Office of Mental Health Advocate; and a number of new diversionary housing units were established to ensure mentally ill offenders are not placed in restricted housing units. Work continues in this area continually improving the DOC's mental health.
Certain offenders are better served and show better outcomes by remaining close to home within the county criminal justice system.
To that end, the DOC has announced a funding solicitation totaling $1.5 million for county government candidates to divert "short min" inmates—those whose minimum sentence dates are one year or less from their admission date to the DOC—from state incarceration. Solicitations are due by March 1, 2016.More information about state inmate populations is available online.