New Perspective On County Jails Part Of ‘Reinvestment’

From Potter County Today

johnwetzelPennsylvania has spent decades figuring out what doesn’t work when it comes to preventing crime and reducing prison populations. New initiatives that are rapidly moving forward under a “justice reinvestment” strategy will have a positive impact on county jails and state prisons, while addressing some of the root causes of crime. That was the forecast by John Wetzel, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, during an appearance before the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania.

“Our resources are limited and we have no choice but to find ways that we can use them more wisely,” Wetzel said, in explaining the reinvestment concept. “Our focus is on reducing the crime rate. We are working to make  it less likely that people leaving confinement will commit another crime — that their first contact with the criminal justice system is their only one. To accomplish this, we simply have to do a better job with re-entry.”

At the heart of the program is an evolving effort to place prisoners in the proper facilities and to better prepare them to face life back in society upon their release. Wetzel identified the top four reasons that prisoners end up back behind bars: lack of employment, lack of adequate housing, drug and alcohol abuse, and lack of education.

Counties could be asked to shoulder more of the burden for criminal offenders within their borders, the secretary conceded, because it’s clear that Pennsylvania has been over-incarcerating some low-risk criminals. “The evidence is overwhelming that low-risk offenders who are sent to the state prison system are more  likely to commit another crime than if they are incarcerated in county jails,” Wetzel said. He added that there is merit in having inmates sentenced to state prison serve the final months of their terms in county jails — a concept that faced opposition among some of the commissioners in the audience.

Expanded work release programs, greater flexibility for judges to sentence more inmates to county facilities, and other changes are coming, Secretary Wetzel said. The payoff, he said, will reduced jail populations, both locally and in the state system, as the result of fewer repeat offenders.

Potter County Today is a timely information site courtesy of the Potter County Commissioners. Reprinted with Permission.


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