Reentry a focus of reform movement

“We need to break down the traditional ways, where this is prison and we got to keep these people in and keep you the community out.”

So said Troy Edwards, reentry services coordinator for the Department of Corrections, in his remarks at the Pennsylvania Prison Society’s 225th anniversary celebration Thursday night.

Edwards, who was the superintendent’s assistant at SCI-Muncy until last year, used his talk to outline some state prison pilot programs taking effect in the next few months.

“We need to get volunteers like you inside to help better prepare these ladies and gentlemen for when they get out. The last six, seven years volunteers have been banging down my door to do more in the prison. There’s a lot of programs already offered, but they’ve never been focused on reentry.”

Provisions for the “Safe Community Reentry Program” are made in Act 122, the prison reform bill passed by the state legislature last year. Among the initiatives include developing individual reentry plans and using programs from outside of the prisons to help reintegrate released offenders into civilian life.

These pilot programs are not meant in the usual sense of “let’s do this and then forget about it,” Edwards said.

“These have got to be evidence-based and assessed, measured and then we’ll look at it another 10 times. We have goals. We want a reduction in parole revocations. Reducing recidivism is the centerpiece of this strategic reentry plan. Secretary (of Corrections John) Wetzel has laid out the most honest approach of recidivism the state’s ever done.”

SCI-Muncy, along with the prisons at Albion, Camp Hill and Graterford, will all serve as sites to test certain programs. Workshops through transitional housing units, where men who will all be getting out at the same time will live and learn, are part of the plans.

Other ideas including expanding the job training within the prison. Edwards offered the example of a program at Muncy that gives formalized training and a certificate to show for it to those women who drive forklifts in their warehouse.

“We want to develop job readiness inside the jail and make offenders more marketable. We don’t want them to leave the jail with a resume that says ‘I was incarcerated.’ We want them to leave with a tangible trade. When I’m really dreaming, I hope we can get them 800 hours (of experience) in a year, get them a journeyman’s license.”

Edwards says other challenges when releasing inmates includes getting those with mental health issues enough medicine, and finding them housing.

“We can give them maybe 30 or 60 days worth of psychotropic medicines when they leave. And that’s toxic enough, politically. But they might take six months to see a doctor. And then you have the sex offenders, the arsonists. They’re really hard to place. They often max out. Usually it’s the faith-based organizations that find them a place to stay.”