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Even after record low recidivism rates, corrections head sees more room for improvement

Written by Ben Allen, General Assignment Reporter | May 18, 2015 4:52 AM
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(Harrisburg) -- Fewer inmates are returning to state prisons, according to recent numbers from the Department of Corrections, and the DOC thinks there's potential for even more improvement.

Acting Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel says he's excited about the 2013 recidivism rates - some are the lowest in more than a decade.

But he's still trying to figure out exactly how much of it was linked to his signature overhaul.

"So there's certainly a correlation with the timing of Justice Reinvestment. I think it's a little early to say causation," says Wetzel.

He says soon after the DOC went to performance-based contracts for its halfway houses, results changed.

So he's calling for accountability measures, for other contractors anddepartment staff.

"Performance-based operations are where we need to get to. Having metrics, identifying what our goals are in key areas, and then measuring it and modifying our policy to yield the outcomes we're looking for," he adds.

As for the future, Wetzel sees Medicaid expansion as a tremendous opportunity.

About 70 percent of inmates enter prison with addictions.

Many more would likely be able to get help through Medicaid when released.

Wetzel says the department is already trying a few programs to try to provide comprehensive addiction treatment, including a shot that blocks cravings for opioids.

"If we can have a better outcome, if someone's less likely to commit a crime by keeping them out of state prison, why wouldn't we do that?"

Wetzel is also optimistic about a proposal to merge a field supervision department with corrections.

He says it will make it easier to proactively address issues for recently-released former inmates.

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