Thursday, July 24, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Budget Cheat Sheet: Philadelphia Prison System

Department: Philadelphia Prison System Time and location: Tuesday, April 6th, 1:15pm – 2:30pm. City Council Chambers (4th floor, City Hall)

Budget Cheat Sheet: Philadelphia Prison System

Department: Philadelphia Prison System

Time and location: Tuesday, April 6th, 1:15pm – 2:30pm. City Council Chambers (4th floor, City Hall)

What the department does: The Philadelphia Prison System is responsible for detaining and processing offenders arrested by the Police Department, although it is only responsible for criminals awaiting trial or those sentenced to two years or less.

2010 budget: The Prison System received an allocation of $248 million in 2010, although the department is projected to spend only $239 million by the end of the fiscal year.

What that pays for: The city has six major prisons, including the House of Corrections on State Road in Northeast Philadelphia. The system also includes facilities specifically for women, first-time offenders, and juveniles, and spends about $116 million in outside contracts, mostly for agreements to house inmates in third-party locations and mental health services.

Proposed 2011 budget: $239 million

Was it cut last year? The city originally planned to increase the prison budget from $241 million to $248 million. However, a number of efficiencies were found and the department is now on target to spend less than allocated. That means the prison budget can be reduced and savings passed along to the general fund.

Major issues: For many years, it was assumed that there was nothing the city could do to get control of prison costs. Now, the inmate population is shrinking and we're finally starting to spend less. For this trend to continue, the city will probably need to invest in technology and make other improvements to streamline its system.

What to expect at the hearing: City Council members will want details about how the prison system managed to decrease it's overall budget. We can also expect some questions about what can be done to reduce costs in the future, as well as the slow pace of the prison bureaucracy.

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Every year, city government spends slightly more than $4 billion. Where does all that money come from? More importantly, where does it go? Are we getting the most bang for our tax buck? “It's Our Money” is a joint project between Philadelphia Daily News and WHYY, funded by the William Penn Foundation, designed to answer these questions.

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