Governor Wolf Announces Prison Inmate Population Drops for Fourth Straight Year

HARRISBURG, Pa. – Governor Tom Wolf announced Monday that the number of inmates in the Pennsylvania state prison system dropped for the fourth consecutive calendar year, according to new statistics released by the Department of Corrections (DOC).

In 2017, the total DOC inmate population dropped from 49,301 to 48,438, a decrease of 863 inmates or 1.8 percent over 2016.

“The 2017 calendar year reduction represents the single largest year-over-year decrease of inmate population on record,” Governor Wolf said. “I am pleased that our efforts and initiatives are making a measurable difference in improving our prison population numbers, while reducing crime, supporting those reentering our communities, and lowering costs.”

After decades of growth that more than doubled the number of prisons in Pennsylvania, the inmate population has declined by 6.4 percent, or 3,319 inmates, since June 2012, allowing for the 2017 closure of SCI Pittsburgh and accompanying significant cost savings.

“This latest reduction in the inmate population, combined with the crime rate decline, indicates that a broad range of bi-partisan criminal justice initiatives being undertaken across Pennsylvania are working for our citizens,” said Corrections Secretary John Wetzel. “We believe further reductions in the inmate population, lower agency costs and decreases in the crime rate, are possible moving forward as part of the consolidation with the Board of Probation and Parole and the second round of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative.”

Officials said legislation proposed under the Justice Reinvestment Initiative would also expand victims’ rights to require police officers to provide victim services information at the scene of a crime, require prosecutors to notify the Victim Advocate on behalf of personal injury crime victims and increase compensation for crime victims.

In the decade before the first Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) began in 2012, the DOC population was increasing by an average of 1,262 inmates per year. The Justice Reinvestment Initiative is aimed at reducing the prison population through criminal justice reform and directing the savings to help counties enhance public safety which also further sustains prison population reductions.

Better coordination between the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole and DOC has played a key role in driving the reduction, along with the invalidation by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 2015 of many mandatory minimum sentencing penalties, Bret Bucklen, the department’s director of planning, research and statistics, said.

Among the legislative proposals under the second phase of Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI2) are the introduction of “presumptive parole,” where short-term, non-violent offenders are automatically paroled upon completion of their minimum sentence, the expansion of the State Intermediate Punishment (SIP) program, which offers shorter sentences for drug offenders, combined with substance use disorder treatment and enacting a short sanctioning option for technical parole violators.

The main driver of the population decrease in 2017 was a large reduction in parole violator admissions, which dropped by 10.2 percent in 2017, said Bucklen.

Further inmate population reductions and additional cost savings are possible if the continued reforms are implemented.

“If we move forward with these proposals, we are projecting a reduction of another roughly 2,500 inmates over the next 5 years, and a cost savings of approximately $91.7 million,” Bucklen said.

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