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Report: PA Prisons A Revolving Door for Four-In-Ten Inmates

April 25, 2011

HARRISBURG, Pa. - Pennsylvania prisons are a revolving door for four out of 10 inmates, the Pew Center on the States has found. In a just-issued report, researchers say that between 2004 and 2007, the recidivism rate for released prisoners was 40 percent.

Adam Gelb, director of the Pew Center on the States Public Safety Performance Project, says Pennsylvania's numbers sit just under the national average, at a time when spending on corrections nationwide has quadrupled in the past two decades to $50 billion a year.

"You would think, with the massive increase in spending we've had on prisons, that that curve would have bent down - that we would have seen pretty significant reductions in recidivism - but that's just not the case."

Part of the problem, Gelb says, is that the system is geared to send freed inmates back to prison if they violate parole. That philosophy needs to be changed to ease the burden on taxpayers, he maintains.

"When agencies do a better job, when they reduce their failures and reduce returns to prison and end up saving taxpayers' dollars by reducing the prison budget, they should share in some of those savings."

The cost of corrections is becoming a growing concern among many Pennsylvanians, from policymakers to the public, Gelb adds.

"Conservatives and liberals from both sides of the aisle are realizing that there are more effective, less expensive strategies, and that the public is sick and tired of the revolving door. They want states to do a better job."

The study also warns that Pennsylvania's recidivism rate is on the rise: It was 37 percent between 1999 and 2002. Pennsylvania is planning to build three more prisons that state officials expect to be filled on the day their doors open.

The full report, "State of Recidivism: The Revolving Door of America's Prisons," is available at www.pewtrusts.org.

Tom Joseph, Public News Service - PA