Pennsylvania senators grill Corrections chief on prisoner releases

Tony Romeo
May 21, 2020 - 9:25 pm
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HARRISBURG, Pa. (KYW Newsradio) — The secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections told state senators this past week that the release of some inmates from state prisons during the pandemic is about protecting the community, as well as inmates and staff.  

Corrections Secretary John Wetzel told the state Senate Judiciary Committee that as of mid-week, only 151 carefully vetted prisoners had been released by issuing reprieve. Still, Republican Sen. Joe Pittman, of Indiana, Pennsylvania, and neighboring counties had some criticisms. 

“It’s very hard for me, as a state senator, to explain to my constituents how the early release of inmates makes them safer,” Pittman said. 

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Wetzel responded by citing the case of Huntingdon state prison, which was hit hard by the coronavirus. He said dozens of inmates were removed from that facility to create space for isolation. 

Further, Wetzel said staff at corrections facilities who have become infected live in the communities where the prisons are located.

“I do think that the community has a compelling interest in us reducing our population responsibly to be able to manage this disease,” he said. 

Meanwhile, the state’s advocate for crime victims praised Wetzel for his collaboration and concern for victims in the COVID-19 response.