Over the past five years, 29 states have managed to cut their imprisonment rates, but according to The New York Times, Pennsylvania is one of 20 states that continue to send more people to prison.
The Pennsylvania prison population is growing at an unsustainable rate in terms of cost to taxpayers. The recently opened State Correctional Institute at Benner Township was built at a cost of aproximately $200 million. Moreover, 90 percent of all those in prison will be released back to the community at some point.
The PPS has an important role to play in Pennsylvania corrections. Following the tradition dating back to 1782 and Benjamin Franklin and Benjamin Rush, we focus on the welfare of inmates and their safe and humane incarceration. The PPS works in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections in three ways: oversight and advocacy; prison visiting; and assistance to men and women when they are released from prison.
The Pennsylvania Prison Society is unlike any other prison organization in the world. State legislation recognizes the society and gives it access to state prisons. The PPS performs its oversight role by entering prisons and visiting with inmates as a way to insure that inmates are treated humanly.
The PPS also has taken an active role in supporting various reform issues such as the possibility of parole for those lifers who committed their crimes while a juvenile. The United States is virtually the only country in the world that allows for juvenile offenders to be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Unfortunately, Pennsylvania is a leader in the number of juvenile lifers in state prisons. The PPS continues to work to obtain legislation that will change this policy.
There are more than 300 members in the PPS who are official visitors. These official visitors make more than 3,000 visits each year. The society has 43 local chapters statewide, including in Centre, Huntingdon, and Blair counties.
As our prison population grows, more volunteers are needed. If you would like to become a volunteer with the Pennsylvania Prison Society, contact John Hargreaves, director of volunteers, at 717-379-8989 or www.prisonsociety.org.
Gert Aron is treasurer of the Pennsylvania Prison Society.