If the reaction of local officials is an indicator, a sweeping proposal to reform the state prison system and save money is going to be enacted.
Gov. Tom Corbett, taking the lead from a Council of State Governments "justice reinvestment" report, is pushing state lawmakers to adopt some significant prison reforms.
At the heart of the changes would be a decrease in the number of offenders in prison by sending those nearing parole to dedicated community corrections centers. The report states often keep inmates in prison even after they are approved for parole. It also says that inmates don't benefit from reform programs because they are continually cycled in and out of the system due to sentencing guidelines.
It sounds as if the state has been pushing inmates through a punitive system without a plan in place to keep them from returning. The origins of this thinking date back a generation, when legislative and corrections leaders determined that stricter, longer term prison time would be the ultimate deterrent.
While that works in some cases, Lycoming County Public Defender William J. Miele says it was the wrong and much too costly approach. He calls the recommendations now being pushed too little, too late.
But now is not the time to lament past mistakes, but rather to do what we can in the way of prison reform to control the present and the future.
That's especially true when the savings could be $350 million over five years for a state budget that needs trimmed and streamlined given the current debt and looming future funding needs for pensions, public education, the highway system and needy human services.
We would suggest the state embark on a penal reform philosophy that, quite frankly, has been employed in Lycoming County for about a generation. The county has been aggressively using alternate methods of punishment through its Pre-release Center and heavy supervised bail monitoring.
If these methods are used on offenders who are not a threat to communities, there is a greater chance of eventually integrating them into the workplace, neighborhood and municipality.
Keep the serious prison time for the most egregious offenders, be creative about alternative punishments for others and save money in the long run. That's a plan worth looking into.