I read an article about a bill that Senator Greenleaf (R-Montgomery) is proposing. The bill had been crafted back in June of 2010 but was brought up by State Auditor Jack Wagner recently because of the budget concerns. On PA2010.com, it states “According to a summary in the proposed budget, Pennsylvania pays $30,248 per year to lock up an inmate. Health care costs account for $4,505 per inmate per year. In contrast, Pennsylvania spends $13,343 per child in school ($4,952 of that in state funds, the rest from federal sources and local property tax revenue).”
Pennsylvania had the fastest-growing prison population in the nation in 2009, and this is not necessarily because more crime is happening here. It is due to certain mandatory sentencing guidelines that are set by each state that prevents a judge from lawfully sentencing anything below the minimum. That means that more people doing crime are sentenced to prison when the crime may not call for it. That means our prison population grows, the supposed need for more prisons grows, and the amount of our tax dollars being spent to house those criminals grows.
Many of these sentences are for non-violent drug related offenses which can be handled other ways. Auditor General Jack Wagner offered a list of recommendations to reduce the prison population recommending reforms such as expanding alternative punishment programs for non-violent offenders half-way houses, home-based electronic monitoring, motivational boot camp as well as expanding the types of crimes that qualify for those programs. Many of these things would also help the rate of recidivism as well. Let’s face it, prison simply warehouses people and allows them to network with other, possibly harder, criminals. A person going in for a small possession charge may come out with the knowledge to do a more serious crime as well as tips to prevent getting caught.
When running, many politicians vow to be “tough on crime” but there has to be sensibility to that promise. Putting people in jail as a way to combat crime is one sided and narrow thinking. In the long run it means a higher percentage of dollars spent on prisons which translates into less dollars spent elsewhere. The better question to ask them is how. Simply putting away people who commit crime does not help reduce crime, putting programs in place to prevent crime in the first place is a far more prudent way to spend tax dollars, and in my opinion works to reduce crime overall.
Please call your senator and ask them to support SB100. Currently it is in committee and it needs to get on the floor, out to a vote and then to the House for support. The sooner we get a more sensible way to deal with crime, the faster our society can deal with the underlying reasons for crime.