Gov. Tom Corbett proposes the biggest reduction in the prison population in Pennsylvania history. State prison guards are not impressed.
Corbett plans to reduce the population by 2,500 inmates in 2013 through increased efficiency in the parole process.
Currently, it costs $93.21 per inmate per day, and the state has 51,600 inmates in 27 prisons that were designed to hold no more than 44,000.
By making changes that reduce the inmate population, the state could save millions in prison costs every year.
But the unionized prison guards say it can't be done, at least not the way the governor envisions.
"The only way it can be done is they're going to have to cut people loose that shouldn't be cut loose," says Roy Pinto, president of the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association.
That's not going to happen, insists Secretary of Corrections John Wetzel.
"Nowhere did you hear us say we are changing the criteria for parole," Wetzel says.
There are inmates ready to be paroled but aren't because the system is inefficient, he says.
Likewise, Michael Potteiger, state parole board chairman, stresses that the board - which operates independently from Corrections - does not make decisions based on prison populations.
"We're not changing any criteria for a person to be paroled. Getting people who've already been paroled out the door sooner isn't a safety risk," Potteiger says.
Union president Pinto's feigned concern for public safety masks his No. 1 priority - protecting the jobs of union members.
Pinto apparently is worried that any efficiencies implemented by Corrections could result in fewer prison guards or, at least, less overtime pay (overtime totals $60 million a year in the prison budget).
Pinto also attempts to deflect any criticism of guard staffing by claiming the system is "top heavy" in management. Sorry to say, Pinto seems all too willing to put the union's needs ahead of taxpayers.
Rather than resist Corbett's efforts to better run the state prison system, Pinto and the union leadership should embrace them.
The efforts not only stand to improve the prison system, but save significant sums of taxpayer money in the process.
Pinto should remember that prison guards are taxpayers, too.
-Lancaster New Era