Meadville Tribune

Breaking News

State News

November 15, 2013

Pa. prison system sheds immigrants, saves money

HARRISBURG — In June, a convicted drug dealer from Lebanon County was deported instead of having to complete a 25-year sentence that could have kept him in prison until 2032. He was the first state prison inmate in Pennsylvania dismissed from the country before he had completed his minimum sentence.

A law passed last year allows the parole board to grant early release to immigrants who are in the country illegally and serving prison sentences for non-violent offenses.

Raul Felix Pena-Liz, 20, the drug dealer from Lebanon, was just one of 158 immigrants shed by the prison system in the last year, according to the state Board of Probation and Parole.

The mass deportation will save Pennsylvania taxpayers $5.5 million a year, based on the $35,000 to $37,000 the state spends to house each inmate.

Most of those released had already served minimum sentences when the law went into effect, said Sherry Tate, a spokesman for the parole board. Only four — including Pena-Liz — were granted early parole because of the law, which was part of a wide-ranging prison reform passed in 2012.

All four of the convicts released early had been arrested on drug offenses, according to the records. Two have since been deported and two others remain in the custody of federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The policy of deporting inmates instead of forcing them to serve prison time is becoming increasingly common as states cut prison costs and reduce overcrowding.

The practice is also controversial. Critics argue that immigrants that have already entered the country illegally are likely to try to sneak back into the United States.

A 2011 study by the conservative Center for Immigrations Studies noted that 46 percent of immigrants deported from the U.S. due to criminal convictions were people who had been previously deported only to return.

Under Pennsylvania’s law, a prisoner caught in the country after having been paroled and deported will be returned to prison to complete the original sentence.

Prosecutors have little objection to the law, said Richard Long, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of District Attorneys.

“Any angst we would have about it would be eliminated as long as we are confident that we are not going to see them again,” Long said.

If there is evidence that immigrants paroled under the law are returning to Pennsylvania, “then we’d have to revisit it,” he said.

In 2012 testimony before the Senate appropriations committee, Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said more than 200 immigrants who had entered the country illegally were then serving time in the state prison system. That was enough to fill a prison housing unit, he said.

Overall, there are more than 50,000 state prison inmates.

Wetzel made the comment in response to a lawmaker wondering about ways to improve the prison reform bill. Lawmakers responded to the corrections secretary by baking the deportation language into the bill, which was signed into by the governor in June 2012.

John Finnerty works in the Harrisburg Bureau for Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. He can be reached by email at jfinnerty@cnhi.com or on Twitter @cnhipa.

1
Text Only
State News
  • Well inspectors trying to keep up during boom time

    The state’s 83 well inspectors face a daunting enough challenge keeping tabs on 120,000 active oil and gas wells that have been drilled over the last century.

    July 27, 2014

  • PennDOT seeking outside help to make bridge repairs

    State officials are poised to sign a massive deal that will enlist outside help to rebuild and maintain up to 600 bridges, marking the Corbett administration’s latest foray into privatizing key government functions.

    July 24, 2014

  • Gov. Corbett pressures lawmakers in pension fight

    Gov. Tom Corbett is ratcheting up pressure on the Legislature to reform the state’s pension system by focusing on how often school districts use tax increases to offset costs.

    July 22, 2014

  • Experts: Expanding coverage fuels doc shortage

    Pennsylvania’s health care system absorbed more than 300,000 new patients who signed up for insurance through Obamacare’s exchanges. But experts worry the system can’t handle another wave of patients, twice as large, should the state expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

    July 13, 2014

  • Jerry Sandusky’s son tells story to Oprah Winfrey

    Jerry Sandusky’s adult son is speaking out about what he says was sexual abuse by his father.

    July 8, 2014

  • Environmentalists criticize drilling-for-dollars plan in state forests and parks

    Pennsylvania’s just finished budget calls for raising almost $100 million by expanding leases for gas development in state forests — even though leases the state has already issued are far from tapped out.

    July 3, 2014

  • Pennsylvania House approves Republicans' $29.1B budget

    The Legislature voted late Monday to put a looming, $1.5 billion shortfall in its rearview mirror, with a deal to pass a $29.1 billion budget that increases state spending by 1.8 percent but doesn’t hike taxes.

    June 30, 2014

  • Food safety delivery concerns rise with fuel prices

    A few weeks ago state agriculture inspectors forced a trucker to toss 2,000 pounds of food in the garbage after finding the cargo had not been kept at safe temperatures.

    June 15, 2014

  • Tow truckers hope to put brakes on dispatch system

    Some tow truck operators are boycotting a computerized dispatch system put in place by state police, complaining that it’s confusing and leads to longer response times than when troopers and dispatchers manage a call.

    June 1, 2014

  • 'Economics' of state gubernatorial campaigns

    Gov. Tom Corbett’s re-election campaign hailed April’s jobs numbers. Pennsylvania’s unemployment dipped to 5.7 percent — its lowest since 2008 and well below the national average of 6.3 percent.
    “The people of Pennsylvania elected me to Harrisburg on my promise of less taxes and more jobs, and we continue to see that promise ringing tr

    May 25, 2014

Business Marquee
AP Video
Kerry: Humanitarian Cease-fire Efforts Continue Raw: Corruption Trial Begins for Former Va Gov. The Carbon Trap: US Exports Global Warming UN Security Council Calls for Gaza Cease-fire Traditional African Dishes Teach Healthy Eating 13 Struck by Lightning on Calif. Beach Baseball Hall of Famers Inducted Israel, Hamas Trade Fire Despite Truce in Gaza Italy's Nibali Set to Win First Tour De France Raw: Shipwrecked Concordia Completes Last Voyage Raw: Sea Turtle Hatchlings Emerge From Nest Raw: Massive Dust Storm Covers Phoenix 12-hour Cease-fire in Gaza Fighting Begins Raw: Bolivian Dancers Attempt to Break Record Raw: Israel, Palestine Supporters Rally in US Raw: Air Algerie Flight 5017 Wreckage Virginia Governor Tours Tornado Aftermath Judge Faces Heat Over Offer to Help Migrant Kids Kangaroo Goes Missing in Oklahoma More M17 Bodies Return, Sanctions on Russia Grow
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
Stocks