Pennsylvania Looks at Freezing Prison Construction

posted at 2:00 pm on January 29, 2011 by Jazz Shaw

As with many states around the nation, Pennsylvania is dealing with severe budget challenges and scrambling to find ways to cut costs and improve efficiencies. Pennsylvania Auditor General Jack Wagner has come up with one proposal which is raising some eyebrows, but may pay off in the end. He’s proposing a freeze on new prison construction and decreasing the inmate rolls.

This has led to some interesting headlines, such as, Pennsylvania’s Auditor General says it makes Fiscal Sense to let Prisoners Go. Another, simply titled, “Let them out” goes a bit further, seeking to indict the entire system as some sort of clandestine money making scheme by the government.

This is something reformers have been yelling about for years. Why put nonviolent offenders into an institution where not only does it cost more, you’re practically guaranteeing that they come out as hardened criminals?

It’s more than just the politics of law and order. Across the country, politicians and their cronies have invested heavily in the for-profit prison systems. The more people go to jail, the more money they make

Such a plan would clearly have many conservatives up in arms if they felt the rule of law was going out the window and murderers would soon be walking the streets freely just to save a few bucks. But as this article from the Philly.com points out, the plan’s author isn’t some far Left activist, and he’s not looking to just set huge numbers of the convicts free to cut costs.

Auditor General Jack Wagner is no wide-eyed leftist revolutionary. Sure, he’s a Democrat, but he also hails from Allegheny County and proudly wears the labels pro-life and pro-gun. Despite that conservative pedigree, Wagner called yesterday for something radical: a compete freeze on prison construction in Pennsylvania.

Wagner believes the state could save $50 million next year and $350 million over four years if more nonviolent offenders– who make up 39 percent of Pennsylvania’s prison population– were placed in programs that provide alternatives to incarceration.

Wagner is excluding the ranks of murderers, rapists and their ilk, as previous, sensible plans have done. And rather than some sort of catch and release scheme, he’s examining alternate options including half-way houses, electronic monitoring for home detention, and evening – weekend release programs (which free up beds) for the well behaved.

All of these have potential, and I hope he’s not too badly excoriated solely for political gain over this. But the one item which seems to have been left off the table is privatization. While such plans have hardly been problem free, some have shown a great deal of promise. Getting the prison system off the state government’s books entirely and turning it over to a for-profit organization which will be motivated to do the job in the most economically efficient manner possible should also be considered.

Either way, it’s another sign that states are going to have to tighten their belts or go the route that California and New York (to name just two) are taking. And that road leads to collapse.


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Don’t release any illegals.

SouthernGent on January 29, 2011 at 2:03 PM

Make sure and reserve a cell for Dr. Gosnell, the baby killer.

OmahaConservative on January 29, 2011 at 2:16 PM

And when crime goes up? How much will that cost? How much is a life worth? And before some one says they will only release the nonviolent offenders, it is because of 3 strikes, i.e., 2 violent convictions and a 3rd violent or not, gets you a long sentence, is what has caused crime to plummet, including violent crime.

Blake on January 29, 2011 at 2:16 PM

Put those convicted of violent crimes (murder, rape, assault, robbery, gang members, etc) in prison.

Put those convicted of non-violent crimes (fraud, embezzlement, money laundering, etc) under ankle-bracelet house arrest. Seize their assets as needed to pay-back what they took.

Deport illegal aliens found or convicted of ANY crime immediately.

Privatize the prisons and house arrest monitoring.

Problem solved.

KSgop on January 29, 2011 at 2:24 PM

Prisons should only be used to house those who present a danger to society. A murderer or rapist does. Some guy who embezzled money from his accounting firm does not.

He should definitely have to pay it back and lose some freedoms for a time, but he doesn’t need to go to Corcoran.

KSgop on January 29, 2011 at 2:27 PM

Privatization? Are you crazy? That never works. Better living through government, I say.
-Winnie Libtard

SKYFOX on January 29, 2011 at 2:31 PM

Auditor General Jack Wagner is no wide-eyed leftist revolutionary. Sure, he’s a Democrat, but …

I stopped reading right there. Nothing more need be said.

PackerBronco on January 29, 2011 at 2:36 PM

I think they’re doing it to scare people into paying more taxes. So far in CA several people have paid for lack of prison space.

PattyJ on January 29, 2011 at 2:36 PM

Yes we should privatize prisons through a bidding process, but let’s not limit ourselves to American bidders. If a company in China or India can warehouse prisoners for us for cheaper, let’s do it. The greedy unions will scream bloody murder; -too bad.

slickwillie2001 on January 29, 2011 at 2:40 PM

Pennsylvania Looks at Freezing Prison Construction

.
A ‘Freezing Prison’?
Like the one in “Demolition Man”?

mrt721 on January 29, 2011 at 2:47 PM

The construction of new facilities should be done by inmates. Have ligitimate contractors supervising all aspects of the work. The inmates get paid minimum wage for their work and get trained in a proper skill. Put their earnings into an acccount that they cannot touch until they are released. This way they have a trade and some money to start a new life. The unions hating this is just a bonus.

DAT60A3 on January 29, 2011 at 2:48 PM

The state can also save a lot of money by just not prosecuting crimes. You know, those victimless crimes like pot and prostitution, shoplifting, those non violent offenses.

Skandia Recluse on January 29, 2011 at 2:51 PM

if more nonviolent offenders– who make up 39 percent of Pennsylvania’s prison population

….

I seriously question that.

What they do is, take someone who is currently an inmate for a charge which they classify non-violent but don’t mention they also have prior convictions for rape, robbery, assault etc…

I would be willing to bet the number of true non-violent inmates is under 10%.

artist on January 29, 2011 at 2:52 PM

I guess the writer of this post hasn’t watched Death Race

Kaptain Amerika on January 29, 2011 at 2:53 PM

Prisons …

Why are state and local social programs always almost never looked at? I will guarantee there are hundreds of social and advocacy programs that can be cut or gotten rid of altogether.

darwin on January 29, 2011 at 2:54 PM

Reforming the penal system in America has long been a goal of Progressives. This guy may be carrying the pro-gun/pro-life banner to get elected and this could be just another subversive attempt to decriminalize a particular element. I guess we’ll see.

BKeyser on January 29, 2011 at 2:56 PM

I will guarantee there are hundreds of social and advocacy programs that can be cut or gotten rid of altogether.

darwin on January 29, 2011 at 2:54 PM

Yep

artist on January 29, 2011 at 2:58 PM

There’s an unused prison in Hardin, Mt. that’s looking for some thieves, murderers or even terrorists. They built it thinking the bad guys would come.

Kissmygrits on January 29, 2011 at 3:02 PM

The Governor’s 2010/11 budget proposes nearly $1.8 billion in state funds for the Department of Corrections (DOC), which is $136.8 million or 8.5% more than last year.

State General Funds for the Department of Public Welfare (DPW) total $8.607 billion for 2010/11, a $62 million decrease from 2009/10.
Shouldn’t they be looking at rolling back the Pennsylvania Dept of Public Welfare? It’s budget is nearly 9 billion dollars vs the Dept of Corrections almost 2 billion.

darwin on January 29, 2011 at 3:03 PM

I would add one thing to your proposal: bring back some form of corporal punishment for low-level crimes. Make disobeying the law painful for the offender and less frigging expensive for the legal system.

Dark-Star on January 29, 2011 at 3:06 PM

Freezing Prison?
Like the one in Demolition Man?

mrt721 on January 29, 2011 at 2:47 PM

I misunderstood the headline, too. (I’d heard of sending a guy to “the cooler,” but this….)

apostic on January 29, 2011 at 3:11 PM

Legalize and tax it. 50% of the population is out.

tjexcite on January 29, 2011 at 3:13 PM

Make disobeying the law painful for the offender and less frigging expensive for the legal system.

Dark-Star

white-collar thieves should suffer traumatic amputation of the hand for a first offense.

people with too many speeding tickets unpaid should be forced to wear a ball and chain and spend a year working in a DMV office

audiculous on January 29, 2011 at 3:56 PM

How about we rehabilitate people instead of just punishing them?

Small time crooks go to prison now and all they do is learn how to be big time crooks.

ButterflyDragon on January 29, 2011 at 4:08 PM

probably been said before, but if you kill the murderers and rapists, you free up beds too.

john1schn on January 29, 2011 at 4:30 PM

white-collar thieves should suffer traumatic amputation of the hand for a first offense.

Only in case of major theft, IMO, otherwise working it off should suffice, even if that amounts to a life sentence.

people with too many speeding tickets unpaid should be forced to wear a ball and chain and spend a year working in a DMV office

audiculous on January 29, 2011 at 3:56 PM

Hell yeah, and extend that to road rage, drunk driving, etc.

Dark-Star on January 29, 2011 at 4:39 PM

probably been said before, but if you kill the murderers and rapists, you free up beds too.

john1schn on January 29, 2011 at 4:30 PM

Live target practice for police and military.

Dark-Star on January 29, 2011 at 4:40 PM

I think I’m with the ‘Starship Troopers’ method of dealing with criminal behavior.

The book, not the movie.

trigon on January 29, 2011 at 4:46 PM

Well, with all the ‘non-violent’ burglars and thieves being released, guess it won’t be long before homeowner and business insurance goes up.

What? You didn’t think there would be a ‘cost’ somewhere?

GarandFan on January 29, 2011 at 4:52 PM

Pennsylvania–and most other states–needs to transition to a low-cost prison model instead of restricting a high-cost prison model. It shouldn’t cost $35,000 per year to keep someone locked up.

theperfecteconomist on January 29, 2011 at 4:54 PM

How about a different kind of treatment for first-time offenders: spend nights in jail?

The first-time offender is sentenced to, say, ten nights in jail. They will be served at the pleasure of the state, with 24-hour notice, and any failure to appear (not justified, by, say, hospitalization) will result in a sterner sentence.

The convict must show up by 8:00 PM. He is given dinner, locked up, lights-out, at 9:30, woken at 05:00, given breakfast and the opportunity to shower (if he wishes it) and released. Convicts who hold a job requiring them to appear at work earlier may be placed on an earlier schedule and not required to stay for breakfast.

If the cellmates are randomized, the likelyhood of becoming part of a prison culture will be reduced. The individual nightly reminder of being locked up may have a greater effect than the single incarceration. The random notice will disturb the convict’s schedule and act as a punishment of its own.

Yes, it will require prisons, though not the hardened, unbreakable sort. Why break out when you’ll be released in the morning, and when any violation will earn you the real sentence?

You’ll only need two shifts of guards. The place can be cleaned offshift. And the offender, in many cases, can continue working and paying taxes (while suffering the shame of the sentence).

njcommuter on January 29, 2011 at 5:34 PM

njcommuter on January 29, 2011 at 5:34 PM

Now that is a very interesting and unique idea! I don’t think I’ve ever heard something like that proposed before by anyone.

Wouldn’t hurt to try…at the very least it would be very hard to do worse than the current system!

Dark-Star on January 29, 2011 at 6:05 PM

What’s the definition of a “non-violent” offender?

Sure, he’s a Democrat, but he also hails from Allegheny County and proudly wears the labels pro-life and pro-gun.

He’s a Democrat. Pro-gun-pro life.. doesn’t mean spit. He’s a Democrat. If he were a conservative he’d quit the Democrat party.
There are lots of ways to save money around here. Letting prisoners out on the streets isn’t one of them.

JellyToast on January 29, 2011 at 6:26 PM

But doesn’t government spending create jobs? If we build more prisons, arrest more people, try more people and imprison them, we can have more construction jobs more judges, more prison guards etc. etc. Why is cash for clunkers “good” but cash for getting dangerous people off the street “bad”? Maybe we should just build “green” prisons; then we can get Obama’s federal government to pay for them.

KW64 on January 29, 2011 at 6:32 PM

Sheriff Joe in Arizona. Calling Sheriff Joe.

Got any extra tents? And where do you order your bologna from?

BowHuntingTexas on January 29, 2011 at 6:47 PM

Imagine how many cells could be opened up if there was a wall at the border so they could deport the illegal alien felons back to their home country (both non-violent and violent)
(40%+ in Cali, probably at least 15% in PA)

phreshone on January 29, 2011 at 7:46 PM

I bet President Obama even offered his engineering expertise to this effort. I understand his contribution was to leave the front door off of all Prisons, keeping his promise for an “Open Door” policy.

MSGTAS on January 30, 2011 at 8:02 AM

Man you guys and gals kill me, just draft the jerks and send them off to Obama’s real war in Afganistan. Those gangbangers who think they are tough spraying bullets in a neighborhood full of kids will wet themselves when under fire from Osama’s boys.

Africanus on January 30, 2011 at 9:16 AM

Freeze the prisons and warm up the chair.

I still can’t get over this guy they have up in Kentucky…he’s so dangerous he has an escort in riot gear and every possible appendage is shackled when he has to be moved around…and then the voice-over mentions his possible parole date…WTF? If he’s that damn dangerous, then why ever let him out?

Dr. ZhivBlago on January 30, 2011 at 9:55 AM

Let’s be more like Britain where you can kill a person and serve maybe 5 months.

{+_+}

herself on January 30, 2011 at 10:43 AM

On the other hand how about looking into constructing some freezing prisons. No sense making these folfs toocomfortable.

seatacus on January 30, 2011 at 1:14 PM

Pennsylvania Looks at Freezing Prison Construction

I blame the global warming hoax for consuming too much money!

dominigan on January 30, 2011 at 10:27 PM

Where are they going to send their prisoners? Hawaii sends out large numbers of its prisoners, because it cost too much to house, feed, and keep healthy – rehab out of the question.

There is a large number of activist that want Hawaii to build more Prisons so they can bring back convicts to be reunited with their families. And, in Hawaii “the family or Ohana” is a strong unit. Therefore, the groups voice is not falling on deaf ears.

Pennsylvania will be in same situation as Hawaii, a high crime rate but no place to put them. Let the prisoner’s build their own homes if labor costs are too expensive to afford.

MSGTAS on January 31, 2011 at 9:38 AM

How about a reverse Mariel boat lift? Send the released inmates to Cuba.

olesparkie on January 31, 2011 at 10:44 AM