Pubdate: Tue, 04 Dec 2012
Source: Philadelphia Daily News (PA)
Copyright: 2012 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc.
Author: Matt Pillischer
Page: 16


Bad Way to Spend Our Tax Money

IN HIS NOV. 26 letter, Pennsylvania Department of Corrections
Secretary John Wetzel tries to use progressive language to mask Gov.
Corbett's unjustifiable $685 million prison expansion project.
Wetzel's two main points are disingenuous and misleading.

First, Wetzel cites a decline in the prison population since June to
bolster Corbett's Justice Reinvestment efforts. This is a sleight of
hand - using numbers that merely reflect a decline from the sharp
increase that happened just before. Pennsylvania's prison population
has gone down since June only because the population spiked
significantly in the middle of the year. If Wetzel compared today's
population to the amount one year ago, he would find that there are
actually slightly more people in Pennsylvania's prisons today than
there were in October 2011, up from 51,323 to 51,382.

Wetzel's second argument is equally deceptive. Under Corbett's
direction, Pennsylvania is spending $400 million to build two new
prisons - SCI Phoenix I and II - on the grounds of Graterford prison.
Wetzel wants us to believe these prisons will replace the aging SCI
Graterford. Yet, again and again, Wetzel refuses to publicly commit to
closing Graterford, and his own spokeswoman, Susan McNaughton, has
admitted that the facility will remain available for overcrowding. The
secretary has also acknowledged that it would be cheaper to renovate
the existing facility, but refuses to consider a renovation. Most
egregious, the layout for the two new prisons, already substantially
bigger than the existing Graterford, includes plans for future housing
units in addition to the 4,100 beds currently in construction.

Wetzel concludes by telling readers that there will always be a need
for prisons. As long as Pennsylvania continues down the path of mass
incarceration, filling new prisons disproportionately with people of
color while cutting funding for much-needed services and education,
this will surely be the case. If Wetzel really wants to reduce our
prison population, he should encourage Corbett to decarcerate
Pennsylvania by ending the failed war on drugs, repealing mandatory
minimum sentencing laws, and creating parole eligibility for the
thousands of aging men and women serving life sentences. If we invest
the saved money in the things people need - education, job training,
health care, and drug and alcohol treatment - our communities will be
safer and we can talk about closing prisons, not opening new ones.

Matt Pillischer Decarcerate PA
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MAP posted-by: Matt