On October 2018, COGI received an award from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD) to implement a Re-Entry Partnership Program in Schuylkill County. The current project is funded through December 2020.
Our expectations for the program were to receive referrals of inmates releasing to Schuylkill County who would be in need of support in obtaining outpatient substance abuse treatment as well as referrals to engage in various programs as the client re-enters the community. While there was a steady flow of referrals into the program, we did not initially anticipate so many clients leaving incarceration and immediately going into inpatient substance abuse treatment facilities.
As a result of so many inpatient referrals, we established relationships and continued to follow our clients while they were in the inpatient setting. We did check-ins and assessed their needs for re-entry into the community. Some clients had the opportunity to finish their sentence in an inpatient treatment program rather than in jail. This positive attitude towards obtaining treatment helped maintain success in the community.
Re-entry is not without its complications. First and foremost, Schuylkill County lacks greatly in housing. Inmates who did not have a residence to return to often sat until their maximum sentence date, even though they were incarcerated for non-violent crimes and model inmates. This adds to the congestion within the prison and is difficult to overcome because you need all three forms of identification (social security, license/state ID, and birth certificate) when applying for housing. Private landlords were not as willing to rent to inmates on the basis they had no solid income; we attempted to overcome this barrier, but without paying rent upfront on behalf of these people, most business owners did not want to take the risk.
Secondly, because this prison was so congested, many inmates were sent to other county prisons to be housed until they were eligible for release. This caused some mayhem as there was never a forewarning that a prisoner was going to be moved, and the details of their move was not communicated until after it was complete. This gave us the opportunity to visit jails in Columbia, Carbon, Luzerne, Centre, Lebanon, Lycoming, and Berks County. Although it was not ideal to visit a Schuylkill County resident so far away, it allowed us to meet new contacts and to see how other jails conduct their day-to-day operations and how they are involving rehabilitation in the process.
Post incarceration, we helped our clients reunite with their children, get proper identification, apply for jobs, obtain housing, learn life skills, and comply with the demands of their probation or parole. Of course, some clients were not ready to leave their former life, and we had several people relapse or stop engaging with us. On more than one occasion, Schuylkill County Probation officers worked closely with us when offenders violated their conditions of parole. They were receptive to allowing re-entry staff get the client into a treatment center rather than revoking their parole. This would have meant that the person would have gone back to jail and all of us would have to start at square one- assessing needs, finding an address, getting basic necessities, supporting them through the incarceration period, etc. The Re-entry Program showed that people in this community, even in the most unlikely of settings, has a positive attitude towards rehabilitation. In addition, this move towards rehabilitation demonstrates that there is finally a shift away from the normal stigma that surrounds people with a substance use disorder.
Re-entry engaged 113 Schuylkill County Residents into the program. Although the program’s trajectory of when they would enter the community was much slower than initially anticipated, we still had 7 people successfully complete all requirements of the program. At the end of 2019, we had 35 clients enrolled in the program, many of them were brought into the program in early 2019. Hopefully this can be an example of how slow-and-steady wins the race.