2010-03-25 / Local & State

Pa. Prison Population Up Despite National Decline

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) – Even as the number of people in state prisons across the country has fallen for the first time in almost four decades, Pennsylvania’s prison population is on the increase.

Pennsylvania had a 4.3 percent rise in the number of prisoners last year, the Pew Center on the States said in a study issued last week. Across the country, state prisons nationwide held roughly 1.4 million inmates at the beginning of the year, 0.4 percent fewer than there were at the end of 2008 – the first year-to-year drop since 1972, the study said.

The center attributed the decline in part to states adopting guidelines reflecting research that low-level offenders and those who have committed technical parole violations are more effectively handled in community programs.

“We are starting to see a triumph of science over sound bites,’’ said Adam Gelb, director of the center’s Public Safety Performance project. “State leaders are reaching across the aisle and coming up with research-based corrections strategies for nonviolent offenders that can protect public safety at far less cost than a prison cell.’’

In Pennsylvania, the inmate population has increased from 8,243 to 51,326 over the past three decades, according to the state Department of Corrections. Adding to the increase was Gov. Rendell’s 2008 moratorium on paroles after a paroled felon killed a Philadelphia police officer.

Due to prison overcrowding, the commonwealth last month began sending inmates to prisons in Virginia and Michigan and plans to place 2,000 prisoners in other states by the end of next month. Corrections Secretary Jeffrey A. Beard has said that if the population keeps growing, the four prisons under construction will be at capacity when they open.

In Philadelphia, the county prison population decreased from 9,854 in January 2009 to 8,369, according to Everett Gillison, deputy mayor for public safety. The drop was attributed to the falling crime rate, the commonwealth agreeing to take 250 state prisoners held in county jails, a program that consolidates hearings for defendants who have probation and parole violations and a change that has judges no longer retaining old cases when they move from criminal to civil courts.

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