Well Wetzel doesn’t see it that way, which is very surprising coming from a Republican administration, which in the past has felt that way. He’s continuing a proven system that worked under former Gov. Rendell. Programs were put in place to make sure inmates are properly trained in some area of work, have the support from their family, and the community they are going back into.
For example previously the punishment of people who committed a crime was to ship them as far away from home as possible. For example Pittsburghers were shipped to Philly, and vice versa. This meant they were away from family and friends so no visitation, away from the community so they didn’t know what was going on. So any rehabilitation program was dealing with the other side of the state, which meant when they got out, they either had to stay way away from home or come home to people they hadn’t seen for years, and didn’t know about the changes in the community. The new system has inmates working with family, friends, community groups and businesses to put them back on the right track to be productive citizens when they leave prison.
This means family, loved ones or the system gives them a temporary place to stay until they find a job and can pay for themselves. In many cases the jobs are waiting for them.
Another positive is that if you are in jail it’s mandatory that you do something to show you are interested in something other than standing on the street corners selling drugs. You must get your GED or take some kind of training that will help you in your search for a job when you get out.
According to Wetzel, this is a whole lot cheaper than housing people. It’s also a lot cheaper to help train and prepare them for the world, than have them return for several years after committing another crime. And that’s not even considering the victims of the crime.
Another thing that impressed me was the fact that he said that if a program, group, or organization working with the state to reduce recidivism is not effective, then they pull the funding and give it to someone who is doing the job. The bottom line is once a person is in the system; those who are supposed to be rehabilitated must be rehabilitated. That means once they get out they don’t end up back in prison. They stay out.
This means working with these young men while they are still in prison. Impressing upon them why they are in prison and what they must do to get out, and to stay out. This means education has to be mandatory, because without it they will never be able to find a decent paying job, or keep a job once they get out.
The largest number of inmates are in prison on drug-related charges, primarily victimless crimes where people are jailed for use of illegal drugs. The demand for drugs has grown into the point where the US is the number one country in the world when it comes to drug use. As long as there is this kind of demand there are going to be people willing to take the risk to supply them because there’s trillions of dollars in the drug trafficking business. So we should also be dealing with why is there such a demand? Wetzel agreed.
How can you just put people in jail when there’s such a demand, he said. Something has to be done with their mental health.
Which means that beyond prison there must be more emphasis, more programs, more effort in this country put on why so many people feel the need to get high, no matter the consequences?
The cost of imprisonment is astronomical. Wetzel says it’s third behind education and human services in Pennsylvania. It is much cheaper to educate a child than to incarcerate that person after they have committed a crime. Again, this supports the idea that if we put more money into the educational system we would have to spend a whole lot less in the criminal justice system?
There are a lot of reasons I disagree with Gov. Tom Corbett, but I agree whole-heartedly on the methods and the overall direction he’s going with the Pa. Correction System. This is something that hopefully people on both sides of the aisle are working toward. First lowering the percentage of Blacks entering the prisons, as well as making sure the ones released do not return.
(Ulish Carter is the managing editor of the New Pittsburgh Courier.)