Last updated: March 25. 2013 11:30PM - 3575 Views
By - smocarsky@timesleader.com - (570) 991-6386

MinSec located in the former Altamont Hotel building building on W. Broad St in Hazleton.  Times Leader file photo
MinSec located in the former Altamont Hotel building building on W. Broad St in Hazleton. Times Leader file photo
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A new report finds that prisoners released to halfway houses like one in downtown Hazleton are more likely to be rearrested or re-incarcerated than those released directly to the street.

According to the 2013 Recidivism Report published by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, inmates paroled to halfway houses — referred to as community corrections centers — have a 65.7 percent recidivism rate compared to a rate of 61.2 percent for those paroled to the street when looking at the most recent three-year overall recidivism rates.

Recidivism is defined as the rearrest or re-incarceration of a person after his or her release from prison.

“I can’t say that I’m surprised because, just based on the facility here in our area, we know how high the recidivism rate is here. We don’t have actual figures, but we know how many escapes and absconces there have been since it opened,” Greater Hazleton Chamber of Commerce President Donna Palermo, an outspoken critic of the facility, said.

MinSec opened a community corrections center in 2007 in the former Altamont Hotel at Broad and Church street — a major intersection in downtown Hazleton — under contract with the DOC, and the facility quickly garnered notoriety. By 2011, more than 30 crimes were allegedly committed by current or former inmates.

The centers are supposed to provide a transition to civilian life for pre-released prisoners who are finishing their sentences there as well as parolees who have finished serving their sentences.

“Our fear all along has been that this system is not working. Our concern is that they’re just filling beds … and it’s affecting our community in a very negative way,” Palermo said.

“Thankfully, the report backs up what we’ve been saying all along. … And the (DOC) secretary is actually agreeing with us. He called the system an abject failure,” she said, referring to a quote from Secretary of Corrections John E. Wetzel in a recent New York Times story. “I don’t think it’s what they were expecting to get as results. Knowing the secretary, I think he will follow through and do what he can to correct this.”

Attempts to reach officials with the DOC on Monday were unsuccessful.

In his introduction to the report, Wetzel writes that officials realize from the analysis “that we have a lot of work to do to improve outcomes in our CCC system.”

Wetzel said legislative changes accomplished through Gov. Tom Corbett’s Justice Reinvestment Initiative are specifically targeted toward improving the CCC system, and suggests that the contracts with private CCC companies will in the future be focused on “performance-based recidivism outcomes.”

Still, Palermo said she hopes the DOC will not renew its contract with Community Education Center, the company that bought MinSec late last year.

In response to a request for comment on the study and how it related to CEC, company spokesman Christopher Greeder wrote that the report is “a landmark study that offers a complex look at the challenging issue of reducing recidivism.”

Greeder said there are many “excellent recommendations and constructive discussions” of the factors surrounding current procedures “and about future benchmarks and performance standards.”

Greeder noted the report indicates that community corrections center residents on parole are subject to much greater levels of scrutiny than parolees released to the street. “Thus, it’s more likely that parole-violating behaviors will be detected, which might explain why their rates of recidivism are higher,” he said.

Greeder said CEC looks forward to “competing for additional opportunities under the new framework and also taking an active part in pragmatic policy changes to improve community corrections programs.” He also noted that, according to the report, longer stays in halfway houses are associated with lower rates of recidivism.

Hazleton Police Chief Frank DeAndrea disagrees with Greeder’s assertion that higher recidivism rates might be a result of greater scrutiny being placed on CCC residents than on parolees released to the streets.

“I believe the system is flawed,” DeAndrea said.

He said he believes the DOC’s placement of parolees and pre-release prisoners in CCCs in communities in or near which their crimes were committed instead of at CCCs in their hometown communities sets them up for failure because they have no family or friends to support them in those communities.

It also makes it harder for CCC residents to find jobs because employers are less likely to hire out-of-town ex-cons than local people.

DeAndrea also said the situation with the CCC in Hazleton has not improved since Community Education Center took over.

While DeAndrea still has access to the center’s database, “unfortunately, CEC has had no contact with the police department, even after they promised to have an exceptional relationship with us,” he said. “I don’t even have contact information for CEC.”

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