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Report: PA Prison Spending Crowds Tight State Budget

March 13, 2008

Pittsburgh, PA – Pennsylvanians should be singing the prison blues. A new analysis of prison and corrections spending shows it's up 340 percent over the last twenty years. That is one of the highest growth rates in the nation, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

Adam Gelb with the Pew Public Safety Performance Project crunched some of the numbers and says in such a tight budget year, it's time for Pennsylvania to compare how much money is being spent in relationship to how much crime rates are dropping.

"Legislators from both parties are saying, 'We're not getting our money's worth, and this corrections spending is starting to crowd out dollars for other pressing priorities like health care and education.'"

With some crime rates having dropped in recent years, critics point to those statistics as proof the increased spending on corrections is working. But Gelb argues the drop in crime is small when compared to the increase in spending.

Gelb says Texas recently drew the line on prison spending, rejecting a plan to build eight new prisons.

"Texas instead chose to expand a network of residential treatment centers for low-level offenders with drug problems. That is going to save the state about a half a billion dollars over the next five years in prison costs."

More statistics are available online at www.epi.org.

Deborah Smith/Kevin Clay, Public News Service - PA