Pennsylvania Department of Corrections


Learn more about the orgins of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. 

A black and white picture of the old Bureau of Corrections building

Pennsylvania has a distinguished reputation in penology. The commonwealth was the birthplace of the penitentiary concept, also known as the Pennsylvania System. Eastern State Penitentiary opened in 1829, on a cherry orchard outside of Philadelphia, and it was considered at the time to be “the world's greatest penitentiary.” Known to historians as "the first true penitentiary," Eastern State operated until 1970.

The Bureau of Correction was created by an act of Legislature in September 1953. The foundation was based on a report by Retired Army Major General Jacob L. Devers and his special committee to investigate prison problems. The committee was convened shortly after riots at Pittsburgh and Rockview early in 1953. It was the committee's mission to recommend ways to improve the correctional system and reduce unrest. Up to this point the state’s prisons fell under the Department of Welfare where they were governed by their own boards of trustees. The Devers Committee suggested the establishment of one agency, whose sole purpose was to manage the state prison system. Appointed by Gov. John S. Fine, Arthur T. Prasse was selected as the first Commissioner of Corrections, where he remained until 1970.

In 1980, the Bureau of Correction changed hands from the former Pennsylvania Department of Justice, to the newly created Office of General Counsel to the Governor. Constitutional changes resulted in an elected state attorney general, and the disbanding of the Justice Department.

In 1984, under Act 245, the Bureau of Correction was elevated to cabinet-level status, making it the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. In 2017, a Memorandum of Understanding between the DOC and the Pennsylvania Parole Board resulted in the combining of the agencies' similar resources and functions with community parole supervision and reentry services moving under the DOC. This became a permanent consolodation when it was signed into law on June 30, 2021.