The Lead

Pa.’s long-serving prisons chief, John E. Wetzel, is leaving, Wolf admin says

By: - September 13, 2021 1:37 pm

Secretary of Corrections John Wetzel, right, discusses results of an internal review of parole cases that involved recent homicides or attempted homicides, as Deputy Secretary of Reentry Kelly Evans, left, and Chief Counsel Theron Perez, center, listen during a press conference in Mechanicsburg on Wednesday, August 28, 2019.

(*This developing story will be updated)

Pennsylvania Corrections Secretary John E. Wetzel, whose career spanned Republican and Democratic administrations, will leave his post on Oct. 1, Gov. Tom Wolf’s office said Monday.

Wetzel, whose work to reform the state’s sprawling and expensive prison system, won him plaudits, told the Capital-Star that he plans to open a criminal justice nonprofit in February.

“I’m super excited,” Wetzel told the Capital-Star on Monday. “Government is not where change is at right now — for real. I’m in the change business.”

Wetzel thanked Wolf for the “honor and opportunity of a lifetime,” and added that he’s leaving “the best team in the business to the right person for the job, and I’m grateful for that. It’s been an honor to serve Pennsylvania.”

Wetzel will be succeeded by George Little, the agency’s current Deputy Secretary of Community Corrections and Reentry, who will take over on Oct 2, the administration said in a statement.

Pennsylvania’s incoming acting Corrections Secretary George Little (R) speaks to his boss, outgoing Corrections Secretary John E. Wetzel (PennLive screen capture)

A Pennsylvania native, Little spent 26 years working in Tennessee in a variety of corrections-related roles, including Regional Probation Director, Warden and Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Correction. He also served as the director of the Shelby County Tennessee Division of Corrections. In between those stints in corrections, Little also served as the chief administrative officer for the city of Memphis.

In that capacity, Little had oversight of the Memphis Police and Fire Departments, the city’s Second Chance program and its workforce development efforts, the administration said. Little holds an undergraduate degree from Morehouse College, and has completed graduate study in economics, urban/regional development from the University of Texas, the administration said.

In a statement, Wolf praised Little, who’s spent five years in a leadership role at the state’s Corrections Department, saying he has “extensive leadership experience in the public sector, with a focus on public safety.”

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“The Department of Corrections continues to evolve and modernize rehabilitation and education efforts to reduce recidivism while implementing appropriate strategies to enhance public safety,” Wolf continued. “George Little understands this deeply and will serve this position well.”

Wetzel, a central Pennsylvania native, and a onetime warden of the Franklin County jail, was first nominated to serve as Corrections Secretary by Republican Gov. Tom Corbett in 2011. He stayed on when Wolf took office in 2015, serving through all of Wolf’s first term, and most of his second term.

“Under John Wetzel’s leadership, the Department of Corrections experienced the first reduction in the inmate population in decades – a testament to his commitment to rehabilitation and positive re-entry initiatives,” Wolf said in his statement. “I am grateful for his dedication to public safety and for his service to our commonwealth, and I wish him the very best in his future endeavors.”

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