Wetzel to Join Executive Session on Community Corrections at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government

Sep 10, 2013, 15:47 ET from Pennsylvania Department of Corrections

HARRISBURG, Pa., Sept. 10, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel will be a member of the new Executive Session on Community Corrections convening over the next three years at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government.

This prestigious panel, consisting of about 30 of the leading policymakers, practitioners and researchers from across the country, will help shape the meaning and future of community corrections in the United States. The Executive Session aims to develop best practices and thinking for professionals across the public safety and criminal justice spectrum.

The first meeting of the Executive Session will convene at Harvard on Sept. 12, 2013. The session will continue to meet several times through the spring of 2016.

Wetzel said he is honored to be selected to serve on the session.

"I am excited to be able to continue to spread the word on the important work that Pennsylvania has been doing under the guidance and direction of Governor Tom Corbett," Wetzel said.

"Governor Corbett's leadership in the area of prison reform has allowed all levels of the criminal justice field to work together to do what is in the best interest of Pennsylvania's citizens and its offenders. Major changes have been made in Pennsylvania, specifically in the area of community corrections, and this session is another means by which we can share our experiences at a national level, while helping to shape the future of community corrections across the nation."

"Prison reform in Pennsylvania is not simply about saving dollars. It is about saving lives, saving communities and saving families. Every experience has shown that people benefit when offenders are successfully returned to their communities as productive citizens – and the success of these efforts is measured in how effectively we reform those who can be redeemed. That is why we are committed to continuing to make our corrections system more effective, more humane and more in tune with the ideas of public safety and public service," Corbett said.

Wetzel said he also is excited to learn from colleagues from around the country and from various fields, lessons to bring back and further move our system forward.

"I am appreciative that an institution like Harvard would host this important conversation on how we can improve outcomes in corrections by improving all aspects of re-entry," Wetzel said.

The Executive Session on Community Corrections is a joint project of Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government and the National Institute of Justice (NIJ). Harvard and NIJ began work on the first Executive Session on Policing in 1983. That panel, which included then Attorney General Ed Meese, developed and published a set of influential management and policy papers on community policing.

The new Executive Session on Community Corrections is forming at an appropriate time, now that the national conversation regarding correctional policy has shifted to a reform movement as states explore new strategies for managing growing prison and jail populations and historically high corresponding budgets. American correctional policy may well be shaped by the work of the session.

Members of the session include leaders in probation, parole, corrections, judiciary, policing and prosecution, advocates, scholars, elected officials and experienced observers of American corrections policy.

Corbett nominated Wetzel as secretary of the Department of Corrections in December 2010. He was unanimously confirmed by the Senate in May 2011.

Wetzel is responsible for the management and operations of Pennsylvania's Corrections Department which houses more than 51,000 inmates, has approximately 15,000 employees and a nearly $2 billion budget.

With more than 23 years of experience in the corrections field, Wetzel's career began in 1989 as an officer at the Lebanon County Correctional Facility. From there, he transferred to the Berks County Prison, where he held positions of correctional officer, treatment counselor, supervisor of treatment services and training academy director, culminating with him named as warden of the Franklin County Jail in 2002.

He was appointed as the corrections expert to the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole in June 2007 until his confirmation as secretary of corrections in 2011.

Under Corbett's leadership, fundamental transformations to Pennsylvania's criminal justice system have been enacted into law as a part of the administration's Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI). 

Major accomplishments accomplished as part of the Corbett Corrections Reform also include:
- Reorganization of the department's community corrections system;
- Improved relations with the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole;
- Streamlined internal processes to ensure offenders are reviewed for parole in a more timely manner;
- Development of a more-accurate recidivism baseline;
- Expansion of offender eligibility for State Intermediate Punishment, Recidivism Risk Reduction Incentive and boot camp placement;
- Timely classification and placement of short-minimum offenders;
- Contracting of a manager/statewide coordinator to implement and oversee Prison Rape Elimination Training throughout the department;
- Opening of special housing units for security threat groups as well as for veterans; and
- The first significant decline in the state's inmate population in more than 40 years.

Media contact: Susan McNaughton, 717-728-4025

Note to media: Wetzel's photograph is available at www.cor.state.pa.us

SOURCE Pennsylvania Department of Corrections