Pre-Release Center alternatives may not be that easy to find

It costs about $2 million a year to operate the Lycoming County Pre-Release Center, which is designed to gain employment for offenders and otherwise rehabilitate them.

So despite the center’s multifaceted record of success, the Lycoming County Commissioners recently wondered aloud whether a cheaper alternative could be found and should be explored.

Given the county’s growing budget problems, their curiosity is understandable and the idea probably is worth a look.

But let’s not kid ourselves. The alternative is not as easy as snapping fingers.

The center provides offenders the opportunity to work, attend education programs and drug and alcohol counseling and participate in community service. And it’s a proven tool against recidivism.

Residents are charged room, board and drug testing expenses and are expected to pay toward their cost, fines, restitution and child support, if applicable. So there is a major personal responsibility component involved in the center.

Beyond that, the center is being heavily used. The center is capable of handling 137 male and female residents a month and has an average occupancy this year of 108.

Whatever alternative is found needs to provide similar services and handle similar numbers of people.

And it won’t be free. It would require major hiring expansion in the court system to provide an alternative to the Pre-Release Center.

So, in the spirit of operational efficiency and cost savings, it’s worth a look at other alternatives elsewhere that are meeting the same bar as the county’s Pre-Release Center.

But that look better come with wide open eyes.