Report: Pa. is nearly as harsh as Texas when punishing serious crimes

Written by Ben Allen, General Assignment Reporter | Mar 28, 2016 12:43 PM

(Harrisburg) -- Pennsylvania is nearly as harsh as Texas when it comes to punishing violent crimes, according to a new analysis.

The findings rely on a new formula called the punishment rate, developed by the nonpartisan Pew Charitable Trusts.

Pennsylvania's punishment rate is the highest in the Northeast, and higher than traditionally punitive states like Arizona, Missouri, Georgia and Arkansas.

Bret Bucklen, a director at the state Department of Corrections, took a look at the reports.

His analysis shows if state lawmakers didn't make punishments more strict over the past five decades, Pennsylvania's prison population would be nearly cut in half.

"We could empty out 8 of our 26 prisons, reduce by 45%, or 22,700 inmates, and we would have the same ratio of prisoners to crime that happens in Pennsylvania, as we did in 1960," says Bucklen.

He says the public should be asking questions.

"Are we getting what we paid for? Are we responding to crime and having less crime? Or are we just basically wastefully spending our taxpayer dollars on prison?"

The state Department of Corrections, which doesn't include county prisons, spends about $2 billion a year.

It's starting a second phase to reshape its justice system, after kicking off the first phase in 2012.

The plan is designed to save hundreds of millions of dollars by keeping people out of prison.

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