Feb. 23, 2024

Department of Corrections (DOC) Secretary Dr. Laurel Harry along with Kelly Evans, Executive Deputy Secretary for Community Corrections, Reentry, and Parole Field Services, Robert Gimble, Deputy Secretary of Administration, Christian Stephens, Deputy Secretary for Office of Field Services, and James Fox, Chairman of the Probation and Parole Board testified today before the House Appropriations Committee. House Republicans focused their line of questioning on cost increases for the department, even though the prison population in Pennsylvania has been declining. Republicans also asked what the DOC can do to help counties deal with the recent increase in high-profile prison escapes and increases violent incidents.

Key Takeaways

· The DOC is requesting a supplemental appropriation of $101 million in funding for the current FY 2023-24. House Republicans have always fought to ensure correctional facilities have the funding they need; however, spending should be transparent and cost saving measures should have been taken before requesting additional funding.

· House Republicans remained concerned with the continued rise in DOC overtime costs, which is contributing to the retention of corrections officers. To address this, House Republicans suggested the DOC work with the Office of State Inspector General to audit its current overtime policies.

· The DOC’s largest Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBAs) is set to expire on June 30, 2024, Governor Shapiro’s FY 2024-25 budget proposal does not anticipate any increased costs with a new proposal, nor does it include funding for the potential filling of staff vacancies.

o The Executive Branch unilaterally signs CBAs with no input from the General Assembly. Once ratified, the General Assembly will be obligated to fund any increases because of the agreement through a supplemental appropriation request.

· Given the recent increase in high-profile prison breaks in Pennsylvania’s county correctional facilities, House Republicans pressed the DOC to work closer with their county partners. The DOC has the oversight of conducting county prison inspections; therefore, it is imperative that the DOC provide helpful guidance to counties to ensure community safety.

Notable Q&A

Rep. Torren Ecker asks DOC Sec. Dr. Harry how the Department is ensuring the Department of Human Services Section 1115 federal waiver called “Keystones of Health” will result in cost savings for the Commonwealth. 

Rep. Mike Cabell questions DOC Sec. Dr. Harry on whether her budget request includes funding for expiring collective bargaining agreements. Rep. Cabell was surprised to discover it does not. 

Full Hearing

Watch the full hearing here.

Rep. Seth Grove, Republican Chairman of the PA House Appropriations Committee
196th Legislative District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives