Monday, March 22, 2010

State Prison Population Down Nationwide, Not in PA

State prison population decreased in 2009. This is the first decline in 38 years. The Pew Center on the States released a survey last week that found a 0.4-percent reduction in state prisoners between December 31, 2008 and January 1, 2010. That represents the first annual decrease in state prison population since 1972.

The Pew Center found that 27 states realized a decrease in population, while 23 states increased their prison population. Indiana led the nation in proportional terms with a 5.3-percent increase.

Pennsylvania led the nation in actual prisoner increases. Pennsylvania added 2,122 new inmates to its 2008 total. Pennsylvania's prison growth has been astounding. Between 1980 and 2009, Pennsylvania's prison population grew from about 8,000 to more than 51,000.

There are only six states with more prisoners than Pennsylvania. Of those six states, only Florida and Georgia had an increase in prison population last year. California, New York, Ohio and Texas had a decrease in population.

Why the decline? The Pew Center suggests a number of reasons. Initially, declining state budgets. The loss of revenue had many states rethink some of their tough on crime history. Secondly, there is the suggestion that more evidence-based practices have reduced prison populations by targeting less serious offenders for diversion from prison. Lastly, some attribute the decline to a less aggressive posture with regard to technical parole violators.

Pennsylvania is going in a different direction than a majority of other states. The state plans to build four new prison to house the increasing number of inmates. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Corrections Secretary Jeffrey A. Beard told lawmakers that if the prison population keeps growing, the four prisons under construction will be at capacity when they open.

More prisons mean more operating costs. The Corrections Department has requested $1.9 billion in state funding for fiscal 2011. That is an 8.5 percent increase over its $1.75 billion budget this fiscal year.

Read the Pew Center on the States Report here:

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