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PA Proposes Release of Short Term State Inmates

Like most states, Pennsylvania is trying to figure out how to save money and reduce its prison overcrowding problems.

One idea floated by the head of the state prison system is to release short term state inmates. By sending less-serious offenders to halfway houses it could free up as many as 2,000 prison beds, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.

It is a move that could bring statewide savings of $200 million -- the cost of a new prison.

But to do this, steps would require new legislation.

Current law prevents the Department of Corrections from sending newly jailed inmates -- even those with a short sentence of less than a year to community correctional facilities or halfway houses.

All new inmates must go to state prison for the first nine months of their sentence.

Pennsylvania's overcrowding situation has forced the state to Michigan and Virginia, and also forcing Corrections to build three new prisons.

Another proposal by the head of the state prison system is creating new judicial facilities called "specialty courts" to handle people who commit crimes involving alcohol, drugs or have mental illness.

Non-violent crime offenders also would be sent to "boot camp" instead of county jails or state prisons.

But some worry that freeing up existing beds by paroling more nonviolent inmates convicted of lesser crimes also carries risks.

Last year, at least 19 states adopted criminal justice policies intended to cut down on the number of prisoners they house by shortening sentences, the Washington Post reports.

For example a new report from the Sentencing Project, shows that Michigan, New Jersey and New York have seen a 12 percent reduction in their prison populations by making some of these changes.