State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
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To explain rising costs, corrections chief asks lawmakers to look in the mirror

Written by Mary Wilson, Former Capitol Bureau Chief | Feb 12, 2014 3:08 PM

Photo by Mary Wilson / witf

A hearing between state lawmakers and the head of the commonwealth's prisons system has turned into a familiar two-step over the agency's budget growth.

The Department of Corrections is asking for a roughly $77 million increase for the fiscal year starting in July. The budget boost is largely tied to personnel costs. But the agency is also requesting another $20 million for the current fiscal year.

State House lawmakers expressed concern over the department's steadily swelling budget at a House Appropriations hearing Wednesday. But Corrections Secretary John Wetzel turned any questions around on the representatives, saying they're the ones passing laws beefing up prison sentences, resulting in a rising inmate population.

"This is a logical consequence of policy decisions that were made by this body, by folks sitting in the governor's office," Wetzel said.

Lawmakers passed a package of measures in 2012 aimed at keeping low-level offenders out of the prison system. But Wetzel said since then, the House has passed 23 bills that would grow the inmate population, and six of those measures have become law.

In prepared testimony, Wetzel said his agency's $20 million dollar supplemental budget boost requested for the current fiscal year is needed, in part, to help cover an inmate population that hasn't shrunk as quickly as the department expected.

Wetzel said after the hearing lawmakers' consternation over rising corrections costs is nothing new. "During this time of year, yeah, it's really on everybody's radar scope," he said. "Whey forget about it 'til next year, when they scold me for spending too much money on corrections. I mean, that's how this works."

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