Prison numbers down, reentry center renewal up for debate

Prison population numbers continue to decline, and one Lycoming County commissioner says despite high costs, it is due, in part, to the GEO Reentry Service Center.

September saw an average daily prison population of 298 males and 63 females, with no overcrowding transfers for men and roughly three for women.

This is the second month in a row for zero male overcrowding transfers and shows a continuing decline of prison numbers altogether, said Brad Shoemaker, deputy warden of security and operations.

County Commissioner Tony Mussare said this is due to a countywide effort supported by the prison, court system, Sheriff Mark Lusk and District Attorney Eric Linhardt. However, he added it also is due to the work of the reentry services center that the county signed a three-year contract with in 2014.

According to the contract a minimum of 50 participants must be enrolled in the program at one time, with a rate of $32.84, unless the participant number rises above 76, then the rate will drop to $25.92.

In September, the center had an average of 80 participants, as well as 54 additional individuals on its electronic monitoring program, said John Stahl, supervisor with the Adult Probation Office, which oversees the reentry center

Since it opened, the center has transitioned roughly 141 successful participants, and about 40 percent of those people now have stable jobs, Stahl said.

But as the commissioners consider the 2017 budget, renewing the center’s contract is up for debate.

“If we reduced GEO (Reentry Services) to save money or get additional staff, I think we would be making a mistake at this time,” Mussare said. He is in favor of renewing the contract at its current rate.

Mussare admitted his bias toward the program because he helped to start it, but he also acknowledged that prison population numbers have declined due to a variety of efforts around the county, not just because of the center.

Michael Boughton, program manager of the center, said that if the center were to close today roughly 40 percent of its participants would be in the prison system.

Commissioner Rick Mirabito said he sees the advantage of the center, but would rather cut some of the costs to give the county the ability to hire additional adult probation officers to assist with increased monitoring programs that also would help to keep individuals out of prison.

“We’re trying to figure out how to get the best bang for our buck,” Mirabito said. He said this would mean putting fewer people into the reentry program and would “channel people there who are going to have the highest likelihood of benefiting from the extra attention they are getting.”

The commissioners are considering whether to sign a contract extension for the program that will reduce the current monthly cost by $2,000 but will not tie them into renewing the program in June, Mussare said. According to the contract, it can be extended in one-year increments, instead of the three-year agreement.

The commissioners will likely make a determination about renewing the center’s contract by the time the 2017 budget is finalized, Mussare said.