Testimony by: Secretary Jeffrey A. Beard, Ph.D.
Pennsylvania Department of Corrections
Senate Judiciary Hearing
Introduction & Background
Good morning Chairman Greenleaf, Chairman Leach and Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Thank you for inviting me to testify today. My presentation will focus on the growing inmate population and the causal factors behind this increase. I will also provide some recommendations which can begin to help control this growth while also improving public safety.
First, it is instructive to look at the forty year period from 1940 through 1980 (See chart 1). During this time, the number of incarcerated individuals committed to the Commonwealth's care remained relatively stable, averaging between 5,000 and 8,000 inmates. However, since that time, the state inmate population began a steady climb, increasing from 8,243 inmates in 1980 to 51,322 currently.
The increase in the Pennsylvania prison population is reflective of the ongoing "war on drugsn and concern over violent crime which began in the late 1970s and has resulted in the incarceration of more offenders for lengthier periods of time irrespective of the crime (see chart 2). This "get tough on crimen ideology has driven the growth of our prison population and over the years this ideology has been reinforced with isolated events. The public response to these events has sent a powerful message to our elected officials. That is, if you appear soft on crime, you will lose elections, and unfortunately for many, soft on crime is anything that does not result in longer, harsher sentences.
The more recent sudden increase in the inmate population in late 2008 was caused by two very high profile and tragic cases when inmates who were granted parole were involved in the murders of Philadelphia police officers. As with previous high profile cases/incidents, i.e., Willie Horton in 1988, Reginald McFadden in 1994 and... [continues]
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