Anger over “broken priorities” as the governor announces proposed budget
For Immediate Release: February 6, 2013
Harrisburg, PA: People from community groups across the state are responding with frustration to Governor Corbett’s budget address, calling the proposed budget a prime example of the Governor’s “broken priorities,” which have continued to increase spending on prisons while underfunding basic education and community resources.
“Governor Corbett has committed himself to a plan of fiscal austerity, slashing essential services and critical education funding, while aggressively pursuing expensive prison construction that Pennsylvania doesn’t need and can’t afford,” said Emily Abendroth of Decarcerate PA.
Governor Corbett’s controversial budget continues to underfund education, maintaining deep cuts to higher education and restoring less than 10% of the last two years of destructive cuts to public schools. Yet the governor also proposes drastically increasing the Department of Corrections (DOC) budget by about $68 million–to $1.93 billion in General Fund spending. When all funding sources are included, Corbett’s proposal puts the total DOC budget at over $2 billion for the first time ever. Notably, the Governor projects that the DOC budget will remain over $2 billion during the next five years, despite his assertion that his Justice Reinvestment Initiative will reduce the prison population and save the state $139 million. At the same time, Governor Corbett is continuing to push forward construction of two new state prisons – at a projected cost of $455 million – on the site of the current SCI Graterford in Montgomery County. And his proposed 2013-2014 budget includes an additional $166 million in capital funds for Corrections projects.
These added expenditures and costly new prison construction projects expand the prison system, even as the DOC projects a decrease of over 3,000 prisoners over the next five years. According to Governor Corbett’s budget proposal, the DOC will hold about 50,530 people with a 49,200 bed capacity in 2012-2013. By 2015, the DOC will have brought almost 2,000 new beds online – bringing the total bed capacity to 50,700 while the projected population will have dropped to 47,670. Because of this massive addition of unnecessary new prison beds, the price of incarcerating each prisoner is predicted to jump drastically over the next few years – from $35,400 in 2012-2013 to $39,800 in 2017-2018.
Expanding the DOC budget also exacerbates the problems faced by already underfunded schools. “The governor’s insistence on continuing prison expansion is absurd,” said Anissa Weinraub of the Teacher Action Group. “He’s asking teachers to make a false choice between the security of our jobs and the future of our students. There’s enough money in the budget for pensions and a quality education system. The governor should cancel the prison expansion, commit to substantially decreasing our prison population, and put that money back into our classrooms where it belongs.”
Opponents of the planned prison expansions say that Pennsylvania should follow the national trend of substantive sentencing reform that reduces the number of people in prison while alleviating fiscally strapped state budgets. In 2012, Governor Corbett signed the Criminal Justice Reform Act, but failed to address the areas that would create the biggest reductions in prison spending: increased parole eligibility for elderly prisoners serving long sentences, the elimination of mandatory minimums, and funding for community-based responses to drug and alcohol addiction and mental illness.
“Governor Corbett’s budget makes it clear that he doesn’t care about the health and wellbeing of our communities,” said Clarissa Rogers of Decarcerate PA. “If he really wants to move Pennsylvania forward, he’ll cancel construction in Montgomery County and invest resources in the things we know create safe, stable communities.”
Decarcerate PA is a coalition seeking an end to mass incarceration and an expansion of mechanisms that maintain whole, healthy communities. We believe that imprisonment exacerbates the problems we face. Decarcerate PA seeks 1.) an immediate and lasting moratorium on all new prison construction, 2.) policies that shrink the prison system, and 3.) reinvestment in our communities. Such steps are necessary to secure socially responsible, personally secure, and economically viable communities in our state.