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Parole Violators Flood Pennsylvania Prisons

In the latest performance of justice by the numbers, a behind the scenes power struggle is playing out between the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) and the state Board of Probation and Parole (BPP). As usual, prisoners are caught in the middle.

Conflicting priorities are fueling the dispute. The DOC, recipient of large expansion-related budget increases in recent years, is ostensibly trying to curtail costs by keeping a lid on its once-exploding prison population. The BPP on the other hand, is flooding the system with technical violatorsparolees who are returned to prison merely for violating the terms of their parole. The BPP claims the revocations are necessary to avoid another incident like that of Robert Mudman" Simon, a parolee who murdered a cop within weeks of being released in 1995.
Though both sides deny it, the conflict has created tension between Parole and Corrections," said. M.L. Ebert, president of the Pennsylvania District Attorney's Office. Money is the reason. I really think it comes down to dollars and cents," said Julia Ingersoll, director of Legal Studies at Harcum College. The cost is phenomenal to have people constantly in prison." Currently, Pennsylvania spends $29,907 a year on each state prisoner; by contrast, it costs the BPP only about $3,000 a year to monitor each parolee.

Unfortunately for parolees, the BPP seems to be winning. The number of parolees returned to prison swelled from 3,860 in 1998 to 5,808 in 2004a 50% increase. Consequently, 38% of all incoming prisoners in 2004 were violators. Many had been revoked for technical violations. In fact, the DOC reported that nearly half (42%) of all parole violators imprisoned in March 2005 were technical violators.

Parole officials contend that by violating parolees for relatively minor infractionsmissing a scheduled appointment with their parole officer, smoking marijuanathey are preventing some impending crime spree that could lead to new convictions. The actual recidivism numbers have stayed pretty steady over the years," said board Spokeswoman Lauren Taylor. It's been pretty consistent. The right people are going back at the right times.

But DOC Secretary Jeffrey Beard disagreed with the Board's logic. [T]here is no evidence" to support the board's assertion that technical parole violations are a precursor to criminal behavior," he said.
The DOC is now purportedly implementing treatment and education programs aimed at lowering recidivism rates. This necessarily includes making sure prisoners successfully complete their parole, says Beard. Once they've violated, they're more likely to come back a second or third time," he said. We need to divert them when we can."

Source: The Morning Call

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