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How probation and parole violations are filling Pennsylvania prisons, bloating budgets

June 18, 2019, Samantha Melamed - The Philadelphia Inquirer

Pennsylvania’s $2.6 billion correctional system now holds more than 48,000 people in state prisons and halfway houses — a figure that is more than triple what it was 30 years ago, even though the crime rate fell by more than a third over that same period.

A new analysis by the Council of State Governments’ Justice Center, with support from Arnold Ventures, points to a hidden driver filling those prison cells: thousands of people returning to prison on parole violations each year. As of 2017, 54 percent of prison admissions in Pennsylvania were for supervision violations; the individuals returning on violations make up 16 percent of all state prisoners.

“This data really should be a wake-up call to state correctional leaders, lawmakers, and the public,” said Arnold Ventures’ Juliene James.

By CSG’s reckoning, on an average day, 7,443 Pennsylvanians are incarcerated for supervision violations. That costs the state $334 million each year — nearly a third of which goes to imprisoning “technical” violators who have not committed a new crime.

“As a taxpayer, when you see that Pennsylvania is, in spite of the progress we’ve made, spending $100 million on technical parole violations, that should lead you to ask questions," Secretary of Corrections John Wetzel said.

He said it points to a need for legislative reform, as well as a rethinking of how parole officers handle violations. People in violation should be referred to resources when possible, he said, before sending them to prison.

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