Citing efforts aimed at increasing efficiencies and reducing recidivism, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections announced a 908-person drop in the inmate population within the state prison system.
“This is the largest one year drop in the population since 1971 and only the fourth time in the past 40 years that the DOC population has shown an annual decrease rather than an increase,” said DOC spokeswoman Sue Bensinger.
According to the DOC, four years ago the state prison population was expected to top 56,000 inmates by the end of 2014. Instead, the calendar year ended with 50,756 inmates.
The drop, according to Bensinger, can be attributed to a number of factors such as greater cooperation with the Board of Parole and Probation, which has led to a more timely and efficient process for releasing eligible inmates. Plus, there have been efforts to keep the recidivism rate down by ensuring inmates have tools available to navigate services outside of prison.
“One of our big initiatives was, we made available guides and maps, we call it a clickable map, each county has their resources listed on that map,” said Bensinger. “It’s just a resource for the individual to go so they understand where to get services in the community.”
The DOC also developed a housing voucher program which provides security deposits and rental aid for low-risk inmates who otherwise would end up in halfway houses, and partnered with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to ensure inmates being released have valid identification.
“It’s very difficult now to not have an ID or a Pennsylvania driver’s license,” said Bensinger. “I mean any time you want to open a bank account or even get a library card you need to have an ID.”
Last year, more than 9,000 inmates had IDs when they left prison.
Reducing the inmate population and ensuring former inmates don’t return is key to easing the burden on taxpayers, according to Bensinger.
“It costs over $35,000 a year to incarcerate an individual, so if we can keep them in the community, gainfully employed, paying their taxes, it greatly lessens the amount of taxpayer dollars that we’re going to have to spend in the department of corrections,” she said.
Since this is the first drop in the inmate population in some time, Bensinger said it’s too early to predict a trend. But, she said the hope is that the recidivism reduction efforts and greater efficiencies will result in continued population declines.