Friday, May 14, 2010

Scrutiny for Pennsylvania's Crime Reduction Efforts

An interesting perspective on crime prevention, treatment and incarceration in Pennsylvania by Melissa Brooks of the Norristown Times Herald.

Risk prevention strategies face funding issues

Published: Sunday, May 09, 2010
Times Herald Staff

At the same time the only line item in the Pennsylvania state budget requiring communities to use proven effective prevention strategies to reduce crime and delinquency is being cut year after year, the level of state funding for the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections has increased by 649 percent from 1985 to 2010.

This, according to Brian Bumbarger, director of the EPIS Center, who said that before repeated budget cuts came, from 1998 to 2002, Pennsylvania was making a pretty significant investment in community prevention coalitions and evidence based programs. The commonwealth actually served as a model for the rest of the country for its forward thinking, he said.

At that time the Pennsylvania crime commission was actually funding nurse home-visitation programs," Bumbarger said. (The Nurse Family Partnership is now funded by the Department of Public Welfare). "That’s pretty progressive. Pennsylvania recognized that if we want to reduce crime, we need to start when these babies are born (to low-income, first-time mothers)."

A March 2010 report from the Pew Center on the States announced that for the first time in 38 years, the number of state prisoners in the United States has declined. However, while the prison count dropped in 27 states from 2008 to 2009, Pennsylvania’s state prison population grew by more than 2,000 inmates, the most significant increase of the other 23 states.

"When you look at the biggest crisis Pennsylvania is facing right now, it is the corrections crisis," Bumbarger said. "We’ve got almost 60,000 people in our state prisons. They’re so overcrowded that we’re actually paying neighboring states to house our overflow of prison inmates."

He called it "shameful" that the state funding level for proven effective prevention strategies has been proposed to be reduced, yet again, to just over $1 million, while funding for the state funding level for proven effective prevention strategies has been proposed to be reduced, yet again, to just over $1 million, while funding for the state correction system is proposed to increase to $1.8 billion in 2011.

"Instead of investing in closing the barn door, they’re investing in expensive strategies to go out and chase the horse down after he’s already committed the crime," Bumbarger said.

He put into perspective $1.8 billion a year: It translates to almost $5 million a day. "We spend more providing breakfast and lunch to state prison inmates in one day than we spend on proven effective prevention programs for youth in one year."

"A lot of strategies are being discussed in Harrisburg to try to get a handle on (the corrections crisis)", Bumbarger continued. "But all the discussions involve reducing sanctions for people already convicted of committing crimes."

"They’re talking about letting people out early, increasing parole, diversion programs (rather than send them to prison, send them to drug treatment) — that’s great — but they all happen after the crimes have been committed. Nobody is talking about what we can do to prevent."

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