A blog of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section


Governor-elect Wolf to be inaugurated on Tuesday

State offices in Harrisburg will be closed Tuesday.

Governor-elect Wolf nominates John Wetzel and Gary Tennis to cabinet


Governor-elect Tom Wolf

John Wetzel, Department of Corrections



John Wetzel

John Wetzel has served as secretary of the Department of Corrections since 2011 and is responsible for the management and operations of the department, which houses more than 51,000 inmates, has approximately 15,000 employees, as well as a budget of over $2 billion.

During his tenure, Wetzel has become known for his efforts on prison reform and recidivism reduction. Wetzel has led Pennsylvania to its two largest prison inmate reductions since 1971, with a reduction of over 400 inmates in 2012 and a reduction of over 700 inmates in 2014.

Wetzel, 45, has more than 25 years of experience in the corrections field, his career began in 1989 as an officer at the Lebanon County Correctional Facility, followed by a transfer to the Berks County Prison.

Over the course of his career he has held the positions of correctional officer, treatment counselor, supervisor of treatment services, and training academy director, before being appointed to the position of warden of the Franklin County Jail in 2002. Previously, Secretary Wetzel served as the corrections expert to the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons from June 2007 until his confirmation as secretary of corrections in 2011.

Wetzel earned a bachelor of arts in psychology from Bloomsburg University and has done master’s level coursework in applied psychology at Penn State University. He lives in Chambersburg with his wife, Theresa, and their four daughters.

Gary Tennis, Department of Drugs and Alcohol


Gary Tennis

Secretary Gary Tennis is currently Pennsylvania’s secretary of the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs and is a nationally recognized expert in drugs and alcohol. Tennis is currently the chairman of the National Alliance on Model State Drug Laws and he serves on the Board of the National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors.

In June last year, Tennis received the Exceptional Leadership and Support of Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment award from the National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors.

Previously, Tennis held many influential positions, including the chief of the Legislation Unit in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, chairman of the District Attorney’s Hiring Committee, executive director of the President’s Commission on Model State Drug Laws, and acting executive director of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association.

Tennis is also the chairman of the National Alliance on Model State Drug Laws and he serves on the Board of the National Association of State Alcohol\Drug Abuse Directors.

He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Tulsa in 1975 and his J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

Session schedule

Here is the latest voting session schedule for the Senate and House–


January 20, 21, 22, 26, 27, 28

February 2, 3, 4, 17, 18, 23, 24, 25

March 2, 3, 4

April 13, 14, 15, 20, 21, 22

May 4, 5, 6, 11, 12, 13

June 1, 2, 3, 8, 9, 10, 15, 16, 17, 18, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 29, 30


January 20, 21, 26, 27, 28

February 2, 3, 4, 9, 10, 11, 23, 24, 25

March 2, 3, 4, 30, 31

April 1, 13, 14, 15, 20, 21, 22

May 4, 5, 6, 11, 12, 13

June 1, 2, 3, 8, 9, 10, 15, 16, 17, 18, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30

The Governor’s budget addressed is tentatively scheduled for March 3.

(Source:  Crisci Associates PA Capitol Digest)


News Release:  State inmate population drops to 50,000

Harrisburg – Four years ago, Pennsylvania’s state prison population was expected to top more than 56,000 inmates by the end of 2014.

Instead, Governor Tom Corbett announced today, the agency ended the calendar year with 50,756 inmates – the lowest inmate population since June 2009.

“The utilization of Justice Reinvestment initiatives are producing measureable results,” Gov. Corbett said. “These numbers prove that our reforms are working.’’

Governor Corbett began leading this reform by ordering the corrections system to analyze and improve.

“The decrease in prison population is a joint accomplishment and the result of internal efficiencies and collaboration between the Department of Corrections, the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole, county judicial systems and many others in the criminal justice continuum,” Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Secretary John E. Wetzel said.

Last year alone, the number of people held inside a state prison was down 908 inmates from the previous year, Wetzel said. This number does not include those inmates held in secured halfway houses or other contracted county facilities.

One of the important factors in decreasing the population numbers, Wetzel said, is reducing the backlog in the parole process. This enables more offenders to meet the parole board, have their cases reviewed and, when appropriate, subsequently released in a timely manner. Approximately 75 percent of releases are the result of a paroling action.

In addition, the length of incarceration time has been reduced for parole violators. Should a parole violator be returned to state custody, the length of incarceration has been reduced from an average 12-to-14 months to a maximum cap of six months for a first violation.

Also in 2014, the Department of Corrections experienced the lowest number of court commitments in seven years. Specifically, there were a total of 10,321 commitments in 2014, compared to 11,520 commitments in 2013.

Fewer court commitments combined with policy changes that enable Pennsylvania to both reduce spending and increase public safety are beginning to take shape,’’ Wetzel added. “All of this, it should be noted, is occurring while the crime rate continues to go down.’’

To reduce recidivism, the Department of Corrections looked at ways to help ex-offenders succeed after they were released from prison and returning to their communities.

The Department of Corrections initiated performance-based incentive programs for halfway houses contracted by the state, offering rewards for the private operators who hold down recidivism and revoking the contracts of those who don’t. Halfway houses were also required to provide mental health services.

To give offenders more tools to succeed after release, the Department of Corrections also:

  • Made available guides and maps to community resources, easily accessible on computers and mobile apps.
  • Developed a housing voucher program to provide security deposits and rental aid for low-risk inmates whose lack of a place to go left them in halfway houses despite release recommendations.
  • The Department of Corrections also partnered with the Department of Transportation to ensure inmates leaving the state prison system had state identification cards required to access many services. Last year, more than 9,000 inmates had IDs when they left prison.

In addition, the Department of Corrections partnered with the Department of Labor and Industry to aid the prison system’s vocational offerings and to better prepare ex-offenders for the workforce upon release. It established structured mentoring through new contracts with nonprofits and faith-based community organizations.

“In 2014, the inmate population within the state correctional institutions decreased by 908,’’ said Dr. Bret Bucklen, the Department of Corrections’ director of Planning, Research and Statistics. “This also was the largest one-year drop in our population since 1971, and only the fourth time in the past 40 years that our population has shown an annual decrease rather than an increase.’’

An analysis of the prison population done in September 2010, projected the state’s inmate population at approximately 56,082 by December 2014, Bucklen said.

“At the same time Governor Corbett initiated the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, he urged all of us in the criminal justice system to reach their goals in only a matter of months, where in other states, similar efforts take years,’’ Wetzel said. “By taking a bi-partisan, participatory planning approach, this process should allow us to build on the progress we’ve made during this administration.

“We are continuing in the right direction thanks to everyone’s efforts,’’ Wetzel said. “I especially want to acknowledge the leadership of Executive Deputy Secretary Shirley Moore Smeal, who has headed up the internal improvement efforts for the Department of Corrections.”

For more information, visit the Department of Corrections website at: www.cor.state.pa.us

Media contact: Susan Bensinger – 717-787-4026

Sentencing Commission announces schedule of meetings

The Commission on Sentencing published its 2015 meeting schedule in the January 17 PA Bulletin.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Tag Cloud

%d bloggers like this: