Let them out

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:

Pennsylvania Auditor General Jack Wagner has found a way for the state to save as much as $350 million dollars over the next four years. Wagner’s formula is tied to inmates and correctional facilities.

Wagner is now urging Governor Tom Corbett and the General Assembly to take on several reforms including better ways to use an existing alternative-sentencing program.

The auditor general noted that over,19,000 inmates, 39 percent of the state’s prison population is made up of non-violent offenders at a cost that has tripled over the past 30 years. Find ways to give these folks more opportunity and there is no longer a need to house them on the state dime.

And, Wagner observed that if Pennsylvania adopted this, it would, at least for now, mean not having to build more prisons, which adds up to saving hundreds of millions of dollars.

“With Pennsylvania facing its greatest budget crisis since the Great Depression, we must look for sustainable savings in every nook and cranny of state government, and that includes the criminal-justice system, which is one of the three biggest drivers of increased spending over the past decade,” Wagner said.

Pennsylvania had the fastest-growing prison population in 2009. Wagner said tougher sentencing guidelines for non-violent crimes is costing the state more than it can realistically afford.