jump to navigation

Pennsylvania Legislators Consider Policy Options to Avert Prison Growth, Improve Outcomes for People with Mental Illness June 29, 2007

Posted by FairSentencing in : Current News , trackback

State Republican and Democratic leaders in the Pennsylvania General Assembly recently requested analysis from the Council of State Governments Justice Center to determine why the prison population is growing and to develop cost-effective strategies to manage this growth.

On Monday, June 4, the House and Senate Judiciary Committees held a rare joint hearing at which Dr. Tony Fabelo (senior research consultant to the Justice Center) and Dr. Fred Osher (the Justice Center’s director of health systems and services policy) presented analysis of the factors driving the growth of Pennsylvania’s prison population. The experts also outlined several policy options that could have an immediate impact on the growth.

Among the factors contributing to the state’s prison growth, Dr. Fabelo cited county jail overcrowding, limited in-prison program capacity, high rates of revocation among people under community supervision, and the underutilization of state-based diversion strategies, such as the State Intermediate Punishment program.

To meet the challenges presented by this burgeoning prison population, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PDOC) proposes a $700 million expansion plan, which includes the construction of three new prisons. During the hearing, however, Dr. Fabelo pointed out that even if the General Assembly approves the PDOC expansion plans, the Department will still be short approximately 9,279 beds by 2013.

Using data gathered in cooperation with various state agencies, Dr. Fabelo recommended several policy options that, if adopted, could reduce this capacity shortfall. These recommendations include:

Dr. Osher also presented the findings of three fiscal impact studies of collaborative criminal justice/mental health diversion programs. The studies, commissioned by the Pennsylvania General Assembly in 2003, were intended to inform the development of a statewide strategy that would address the growing number of people with mental illnesses coming into contact with the criminal justice system. The studies found that diversion programs can increase public safety, help people with mental illnesses succeed in the community, and save taxpayers money. In light of the study findings, Dr. Osher recommended that the Pennsylvania General Assembly provide a small amount of funding for a statewide competitive grant program to promote and replicate such programs across the state. Officials from the PDOC, the Board of Probation and Parole, and the Department of Public Welfare testified in support of this grant program.

The Council of State Governments Justice Center provides technical assistance to Pennsylvania policymakers with the support of the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Assistance, The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Public Safety Performance Project, and the National Institute of Corrections.

For more information on the projected growth of Pennsylvania’s prison population, strategies to manage this growth, and copies of the presentation and testimonies given at the June 4 hearing, please visit the Justice Reinvestment project website.



no comments yet - be the first?