Rising Pa. prison costs due to tougher laws, corrections chief reminds lawmakers

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

    The state Department of Corrections is asking for a roughly $77 million increase for the fiscal year starting in July, largely tied to personnel costs.

    The department is also seeking another $20 million for the current fiscal year.

    State House lawmakers said they are concerned about the regular budget boosts, but Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said Wednesday it’s the Legislature’s fault for passing laws beefing up prison sentences, resulting in a rising inmate population.

    “Listen, during this time of year, [increases are] on everybody’s radar scope, then they forget about it ’til next year, when they scold me for spending too much money on corrections,” he said. “I mean, that’s how this works.”

    Lawmakers passed a package of measures in 2012 aimed at keeping low-level offenders out of the prison system.

    Since then, Wetzel said, they have passed five more laws that will increase the inmate population.

    The agency’s $20 million supplemental request is due to expenses from an inmate population that hasn’t shrunk as quickly as the department expected.

    The Wednesday hearing was one in a series as lawmakers hear from state department heads on a $29.4 billion budget plan proposed by Gov. Tom Corbett.

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