DAVE ROSS

This secretary of corrections takes his job quite literally

Dec 28, 2015, 5:22 AM | Updated: 5:36 am

Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Corrections John Wetzel appears to take his title quite literally...

Pennsylvania's Secretary of Corrections John Wetzel appears to take his title quite literally. (AP)

(AP)

Across the country this year there were new efforts to reduce the U.S. prison population, which remains the largest on the world.

Pennsylvania’s Department of Corrections just got a $1 million education grant for a campaign started by Corrections Secretary John Wetzel, who had to start releasing inmates due to budget cuts. He was worried that a lot of these inmates just weren’t ready.

“These folks are coming here and we’re all invested in corrections ability to actually correct people.”

So he set about trying to turn his inmates into the kind of people you’d be OK with if they moved in next door. He set up transitional housing units based on the theory that if you expect an inmate to make it when he gets out, he needs education, skills, and to interact with his family.

“The transitional housing units are really focused on helping offenders get ready to come back into the community,” he explained.

He was inspired by a trip to German and Dutch prisons where inmates sleep in real beds, can dress as they like, cook their own meals, are never locked in solitary for more than eight hours, and get paid real wages for their work so they have some savings when they’re released.
German recidivism rate after three years is still 35 percent. But the U.S. recidivism rate, despite our much harsher treatment – is almost twice that.

“The fact that you would spend this much money without any focus on getting a return on investment, it’s ridiculous,” Wetzel said. “I’m going to release 18,000 people this year, how do you want them to be? Older and angrier? Or with a set of skills so they can be successful when they get out?”

Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Corrections John Wetzel appears to take his title quite literally.

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This secretary of corrections takes his job quite literally