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PA Corrections Secretary Pushes Education Funding To Prevent Incarceration

Sarah Schneider
90.5 WESA

In the eight months without a state budget, Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel is calling for service providers to back Governor Tom Wolf’s proposed funding of early education.

Wetzel weighed in, because of the link between education and incarceration. He said a child reading at grade level before the third grade is less likely to drop out of school later on; and a high school dropout is more likely to be incarcerated.

He stressed the importance of investing in children, before they enter the criminal justice system, to a group of activists gathered at the State Correctional Institution in Pittsburgh. He asked them to tell elected officials to spend money on education before it has to be used in the department of corrections.

“I’m not saying the world is a fair place. I’m not saying everything should be the same for everybody, but isn’t America about giving people a fair shot?” he said. “If we can make significant investments in kids, to get them started on the same foot, why wouldn’t we do that?”

Wetzel said he hopes more money spent on early education would eventually mean less spent on corrections. Gov. Wolf proposed $30 million for pre-kindergarten programs in the 2016 budget, and $60 million in the 2017 proposed budget.

The House of Representatives approved nearly $1 billion for state prisons Wednesday. According to the Associated Press, Gov. Wolf said he will veto the legislation if it passes the Senate.

Wetzel said the two most predictive factors of someone being incarcerated are their zip code and if their parents were incarcerated.

In collaboration with the Department of Education and the Department of Human Services, Wetzel said displays of brochures of existing programs such as Head Start, child care programs and early intervention helplines will now be in all state prison visiting rooms. He unveiled the first display, called the Child Resource Center in Pittsburgh Wednesday.

He said the goal is for service providers and child caregivers to take the material and connect children to resources and programs they are eligible for. Wetzel said 81,000 children in Pennsylvania have a parent in a state prison.