How to lower prison costs? Secretary advises medical parole

In this Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018 photo, barbed wire lines the top of a wall at the deactivated House of Correction in Philadelphia. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

In this Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018 photo, barbed wire lines the top of a wall at the deactivated House of Correction in Philadelphia. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

For years, Pennsylvania’s Corrections Department has been grappling with a growing issue: having to dedicate a lot of its budget to caring for aging inmates.

At a state House hearing on the department’s budget Thursday, officials recommended certain elderly prisoners be set free.

In Pennsylvania, any life sentence automatically means life without the possibility of parole.

And life sentences are applied broadly. For instance, people who don’t kill anyone but who are involved in a crime in which someone dies can be charged with second-degree murder and sentenced to life.

That translates to Pennsylvania having more people serving life without parole than any other state.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have said they want to spend less on the Corrections Department.

Secretary John Wetzel said one surefire solution is medical parole.

“There’s a combination of research around age and length from the crime that suggests their risk becomes significantly lower to commit another crime,” he told a House committee.

Lawmakers have floated the possibility of medical parole in the past, but so far, the idea hasn’t gotten much traction.

Wetzel said he does think there should be some exceptions to old-age or medical releases.

“I would just caution against painting with a broad brush on life without parole, because frankly, there are some folks who, regardless of the cost, should be incarcerated for the rest of their life as far as I’m concerned,” he said.

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