Commissioners vote to end state reentry program

The GEO Group started partnering with Pennsylvania last month to provide reentry services for state parolees as it does for the county, Lycoming County commissioners announced at Tuesday’s meeting.

Though the program is new, the commissioners voted 2-1 to halt it completely, citing transparency issues and lack of information.

Without access to the state’s contract with GEO, Commissioner Rick Mirabito worries the state may be taking advantage of the taxpayer dollars that fund the county’s reentry program and connected costs, such as utility bills, despite funding similar programs less as the years go on — even as it disperses its prison populations to the counties.

“It’s bad enough they don’t fund (mandated programs like adult probation), but now they’re going to release all these guys and it falls on the backs of taxpayers,” Mirabito said. “They oughtta pony up.”

The program began after an informational meeting between the commissioners, GEO officials and other key folks involved in the decision. Commissioners Jack McKernan and Tony Mussare gave their blessing for GEO to start accepting state parolees under the impression that the details would be worked out publicly in the near-future and that certain conditions would be met, such as setting an end date of Dec. 31, they said.

Mussare added that both he and McKernan were attending conferences in the upcoming days, which hindered meetings and would not have allowed a timely decision to be made publicly.

“The public has been wronged here,” Mirabito said. “Making a mistake is not the end of the world, it’s not some heinous crime. But we need to correct it.”

Solicitor J. David Smith stated that, while starting the program informally is not best practice, it would be fine to ratify the decision by approving the details publicly.

” ‘Wronged’ is a strong word … and it can be fixed,” Smith said.

Mirabito offered another solution by motioning to cancel the program until the commissioners could gather more information and hold a public vote.

Mussare seconded Mirabito’s motion and voted accordingly. McKernan voted against canceling the program. Currently, three state parolees are involved and about 29 referrals are awaiting a decision. The cancellation means the state will have to relocate those parolees for the time being.

“I didn’t think there would be a problem in letting them move forward,” McKernan said, adding he had expected to “tie up loose ends” at an upcoming public meeting.

The program, if reinstated, would provide a small revenue to the county as GEO offered to put $5 per state parolee per day the parolee attends toward the county’s bills. For example, if 20 state parolees use GEO’s service twice in one week, the county would receive $200 for that week.

One thing the commissioners have been told about the state’s contract is that the state will only pay for each day that state parolees show up to GEO, while the county pays daily regardless of attendance.

Mussare said he would assume the state is charged a higher rate to make up for those instances, but that can’t be known for sure without seeing the contract. If the state is only paying for when the parolee shows up and at a similar rate as the county, “we’re getting a raw deal,” he said.

In another matter, Mya Toon, chief procurement officer, announced the county is requesting bids for the James V. Brown Library remodeling project, to be funded by a Keystone recreation grant in the amount of $40,000.

Commissioners McKernan, Mirabito and Mussare were in attendance. The next meeting will be held at 10 a.m. on Thursday.