Coalition aims to improved re-entry for Bucks County parolees, probationers – News – The Intelligencer
Agencies want to work together to help Bucks County’s parolees and probationers find work, housing to lead successful lives.
The Bucks County Re-entry Coalition sounds like the title for a group of local space explorers.
In a way, it is.
The coalition of criminal justice and social service experts was formed to help the more than 10,000 people who are on probation or have been paroled from prison in Bucks County find jobs, housing and support services so they can re-enter society and avoid repeating criminal activity.
“This is something I really believe in,” said Michael Harrison, chairman of the coalition that held its first meeting in November at Holy Family University in Northeast Philadelphia. “I’m doing this because good re-entry is good for the community.”
More than 80 representatives from several government and private agencies, including the courts, treatment facilities and faith-based groups, participated in the first meeting.
“We had an overwhelming level of support,” said Harrison, deputy chief of the Bucks County Department of Adult Probation and Parole. He noted the agencies want to work together to tap into more grants and other resources so persons on probation or parole have access to resources to be successful.”
Statistics show 95% of those who are incarcerated will one day return to their communities.
It’s imperative for their sake and for that of the communities in which they will live to be pro-active in helping them avoid the lifestyle that got them arrested in the first place and to find employment so they can support themselves and their families, Harrison said.
“Good re-entry starts when someone is arrested,” he said.
If a person is convicted of a crime, he or she can be incarcerated or placed on probation by a judge rather than be sent to prison. A person on parole has already served some time in a prison and is now under supervision while serving the remainder of their sentence while out in the community.
If a person breaks their parole regulations, the person may be sent back to prison to serve out the remainder of the original sentence. They may also get a new sentence if another crime is committed while they are out on parole.
But if a person breaks the rules of their probation, the judge has more leeway to decide the length of a prison sentence, Harrison explained, since they were never sentenced to prison previously.
The county recently decided to move its adult probation and parole services for residents of the lower end of the county to a former bank the county is renovating on New Falls Road in Levittown.
The location is more easily accessed by public transportation than Warminster, so Harrison and Christine Shenk, the chief of the county probation and parole department, both think it will make it easier for those who need to report to their probation or parole supervisor to do so.
“Good re-entry is good for everyone,” Harrison said. “It’s good for the person, good for the taxpayer,” since it’s less expensive to supervise someone in the community than to incarcerate them, and he added, it’s good in not creating new victims.
Harrison said one of the first projects the coalition is working on is a meeting with potential employers to explain to them how hiring ex-offenders can help benefit them and the communities in which their firms are located. The coalition is planning this meeting for April, but the date hasn’t been set as yet.
The coalition also is working with the Bucks County Opportunity Council and the Family Service Association, the two Bucks agencies that provide housing services, to help those who need shelter.
The lack of housing “is a big barrier to success,” Harrison said. But not all ex-offenders need or want to live in Bucks. Since many people who commit crimes in Bucks come from other locations, they want to return to their home counties, which take over supervision of their parole or probation.
Parole and probation supervision can range from a person having to report in monthly by phone to someone who needs to report weekly in person.
The Intensive Support Treatment Court, or “drug court” as it is called, is designed to assist persons with a high risk of re-offending because of a substance abuse disorder to stay healthy and away from criminal activity. Persons who are supervised by this court receive much attention from the probation and parole department, Harrison said.
The county also recently hired two staff members who will administer medication at the county prison to help those who come to the prison addicted to drugs or alcohol to stay clean and sober when they are placed on parole. The medications help block the addictive effects of opioids or alcohol. The staff members will work with male and female inmates in this “Heart and Hope” program.
The goal is to assist people on staying on the road to recovery when they re-enter their communities, said Diane Rosati, executive director of the Bucks County Drug & Alcohol Commission.