December 2, 2013
Brad Bumsted's news story “State Corrections boss Wetzel wants fewer prisoners” provides excellent examples of Secretary John Wetzel's prison-reform rhetoric, but it leaves out one crucial fact — rather than shrinking the prison system, the Department of Corrections is spending $400 million to build two new prisons that will house 4,100 people.
Wetzel has claimed these prisons will “replace” the 83-year-old facility at Graterford, but Corrections' own spokespeople have explained otherwise, saying the old prison will be “mothballed” but may be kept available for future use.
We've been here before — in 2003, SCI-Pittsburgh was mothballed when SCI-Fayette was built; two years later, it was reopened and filled to capacity.
Even if SCI-Graterford is actually closed, the new prisons will still add almost 1,000 beds to the system. If Wetzel truly wants to decrease the prison system's size, he must stand up for meaningful policy changes, like repealing mandatory minimum sentences and establishing parole eligibility for lifers.
If he wants to reduce recidivism, he should fight to stop reincarcerating technical parole violators and abolish long-term solitary confinement, which is a form of torture.
Real reform requires real actions. Mere rhetoric isn't cutting it.
The writer is a member of the Greater Pittsburgh branch of Decarcerate PA (decarceratepa.info/).