Officials urge inmates to take steps to gain parole

MUNCY — Successful re-entry into society after incarceration begins the minute an inmate walks into the prison for the first time, said Leo L. Dunn, chairman of the state Board of Probation and Parole.

In two separate sessions Tuesday, Dunn and other re-entry officials spoke to inmates at SCI Muncy who are nearing eligibility for parole on what to expect and how to capitalize on the resources of supervision.

Tuesday’s stop is one of many Dunn is making to institutions all over the state in response to a significant decision to merge the board with the state Department of Corrections.

Gov. Tom Wolf announced that his administration established a memorandum of understanding that consolidated the department and the board this past October. Both agencies shared overlapping resources and functions, according to a release.

The understanding combined community supervision of parolees and all other re-entry services under a new chain of command. But each agency still remains separate from the other and functions individually.

Dunn told the crowd of over 100 inmates at the morning session that the board approves 58 percent of the inmates it interviews for parole.

“Our success rate is measured by how many are paroled and don’t come back after three years,” Dunn said. “The last few years, our success rate has also been 58 percent … meaning the majority of folks don’t come back.”

A lot hinges on an inmate’s interview with the parole board — being released into society or staying in prison.

Much of what Dunn discussed is what the board expects of inmates when they come into an interview.

“Think about who you were at the time of the crime that put you here and who you are now,” Dunn said. “We look at what activities you have done to become that person.”

Before an inmate comes before the board, Dunn said it’s good for them to have future plans for a job or housing figured out beforehand.

“Reconnect with your family and friends now before you get to the board,” he said. “That all puts you at a higher rate of success.”

George Little, director of the department’s Bureau of Community Corrections, emphasized reconnection with loved ones.

“Getting back into a home situation is the best option,” Little said.

It sometimes can take up to four weeks for an inmate to score a bed in a community corrections center. Little said it’s best not to be dependent on the centers because the best resources at a parolee’s reach are at home.

It’s the job of the board to find out as much about an inmate from the day they were born to the second they walk in for the parole interview, Dunn said. Everything from the opinion of the sentencing judge to family and friends is considered and kept in a profile that’s around for 89 years.

“Supervision is a serious privilege,” board member Michael C. Potteiger said. “We really do look to see where you have gone and how you’ve developed.”

The work toward being granted parole begins from the very beginning of a sentence.

Re-entry often is difficult, with many disadvantages associated with being incarcerated. That’s why it’s important to be active while inside.

“You already have strikes against you,” Potteiger said. “Use the resources you have and do anything you can to help you on the outside to put yourself above others.”

Potteiger has a background in field supervision and spoke about the tangible resources each inmate has through their parole officer.

“Utilize your parole officer,” Potteiger said. “We want to help you and give you the resources you need so you don’t come back.”

All three stressed the importance of setting reasonable goals.

“It’s the small steps that lead to big gains,” Little said.

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