House panel approves changes to lower prison populations

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HARRISBURG -- Much of the corrections reform package that Gov. Tom Corbett asked to see on his desk this month cleared a first legislative hurdle on Tuesday.

The House Judiciary Committee approved many of the changes to sentencing that analysts advising state policymakers say would cut hundreds of millions of dollars in future spending while improving the effectiveness of the corrections system. The proposals, which lawmakers added to an existing corrections bill, include barring people convicted only of low-level misdemeanors from serving time in state prison and reshaping halfway houses as residences for inmates approved for parole or those in a program for drug offenses.

Republicans and Democrats alike praised the proposal as a pragmatic attempt to harness spending and improve the system.

"This will allow us to address our corrections issues in a smarter way," said Rep. Glen Grell, R-Cumberland. "It will allow the Department of Corrections to better manage its budget and save some money for the taxpayers of the commonwealth while at the same time not posing any risk to public safety and in fact hopefully, through the processes set in place, reduce recidivism and improve the overall state of public safety in Pennsylvania."

The recommendations of the state Justice Reinvestment Initiative working group include spending a portion of the savings on public safety measures like grants to local police departments and statewide initiatives for police training and data systems. The proposals were not among those approved by the committee, but Mr. Grell predicted they would soon follow.

Janet Kelley, a spokeswoman for Mr. Corbett, said the governor is working with lawmakers to identify the right legislation to carry the spending portions of the plan.

electionspa - state

Karen Langley: klangley@post-gazette.com or 1-717-787-2141. First Published June 6, 2012 12:00 AM


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