John Wetzel- PA Secretary of Corrections (cont’d)

“Forget all of the propaganda forget all the rhetoric, forget all the screw ‘em lock ‘em up stuff, the reality is when an offender comes to us, they come to us not just because maybe the system over incarcerates, but because they didn’t follow the rules. Whatever the rules are. If the rules are unreasonable, you still gotta follow the damn things. And they also come, the vast majority, with real issues. Primarily behavioral health issues with addiction, with mental health. At least 70 to 75% of our population meets the criteria for addiction. 24% of our population are on the mental health roster. Thinking errors. Thinking like a criminal. Not having associates who aren’t involved in crime. These are all things that people bring to us. We access that, identify that up front and throughout their incarceration, we try to provide programs that will address those barriers. At the back end of the system, many of these offenders still have barriers and everybody loves throwing around the term re entry, re entry just means someone walked out the back door, you’ve not done anything to further the goal reintegrating this individual into the community. So at the back end, whatever barriers remain, that’s what  our Community Corrections System needs to look like.

     Inserting transition housing units means we can start that work while they’re in prison, and we can really focus on things such as computer skills, how to interview. We do job fairs at all of our prisons now. We’ve looked at the programs we offer as it relates to vocational programs to offer programs and get jobs. We’re getting offenders employed in fiber optics, we’re a wireless world now, but someone has to run the cable to create the wireless world. Are offenders are doing that. We’re making our system more agile, more responsive to what the market looks like. We’re starting to provide at a handful of our prisons some programs that create skills that are consistent with the gas industry. That’s the direction PA is going in. We’re looking for partnerships with the construction industry in Pittsburgh because construction is booming in Pittsburgh. I have meetings next month with some of the big developers out there creating a flow for offenders to go in that area. We’re really putting aside the rhetoric and all of that stuff and trying to create a path to someone to get successful. Before 4 years ago we’d release 20,000 inmates and 300 of them would leave with a state ID. 2013 that number was 9,000. That’s another barrier that’s at the back end. So we’re really taking this barrier approach and trying to remove those barriers.”

-John Wetzel- PA Secretary of Corrections

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