Imagine (redux) - Lancaster County Re-Entry Management Organization

Imagine arriving in an unfamiliar place, with nothing but a few dollars and the clothes on your back. You don’t have a roadmap or any reliable means of transportation. You aren’t sure where to go or where you’ll sleep tonight. You haven’t eaten for hours and aren’t sure where your next meal will come from.

You are estranged from your family and friends, and can’t call on them to help you. You have no form of identification and aren’t sure how to go about obtaining any. You feel unsure of yourself, doubting your ability to make decisions, solve problems or find your way in the days and weeks to come. You don’t know who you can trust, who to ask for help or where it might be safe for you to go.

As you stand on a street corner, confused and alone, dozens of people pass you by. Many of them don’t notice you at all. Those who do notice you give you strange, frightened looks and quickly walk away.

Really let yourself imagine this happening to you. What is it like – there in the pit of your stomach? What would you do if this happened to you? Who would you turn to? Where would you go? How would you cope?

For people returning to a community after spending months, years or decades in prison, these are some of the challenges they face.

Add to these challenges:

  • lack of a high school diploma or GED (applies to 40% of prisoners), (1)
  • physical or mental disabilities (applies to 31% of prisoners), (1)
  • a history of substance abuse (applies to 70% of prisoners) (1).

Factor in strained or non-existent relationships with their family,
and isolation or outright ostracism from the community,
and suddenly the barriers to survival, let alone success, become nearly insurmountable.

Is it any wonder that, nationally, an estimated 65% of released prisoners will be re-arrested within 3 years, and 40% will wind up back in prison? (2)

Approximately 1600 Lancaster County residents are currently in PA state prisons, and nearly all of them will return to Lancaster some day, after serving anywhere from several years to several decades behind bars.

And Lancaster County Prison releases approximately 500 people PER MONTH back into the community (6000 releases every year).

The Lancaster County Reentry Management Organization has been working for the past 4 years in partnership with local social service organizations, Probation & Parole, transitional/halfway houses, CareerLink, churches and others to improve community safety by helping people transitioning out of the Lancaster County Prison to become productive citizens and remain crime-free. But the extremely limited funding for the RMO has meant they can only serve a small fraction of the people who need support and they’ve only been able to serve those coming out of Lancaster County Prison, not those coming back to Lancaster from state or federal prisons.

“Ensuring successful re-entry means both safer communities and the improved use of tax dollars,” says “The Report of the Re-Entry Policy Council.”

A national report published just this week, titled “Smart Reform is Possible”, recommends changes to criminal justice system policies and practices (including re-entry, probation and parole) that have been proven to reduce incarceration rates and reduce costs associated with incarcerating people while still protecting community safety. What I found most compelling is that the recommended reforms have already been implemented with bi-partisan support and proven successful in states that have historically been considered “tough on crime” – Texas, Kansas, Mississippi, South Carolina, Ohio, and Kentucky. If these states can get policy-makers from across the political spectrum to agree on and implement “smart reform” in their criminal justice system, Pennsylvania (and Lancaster County) should be able to do the same.

Safer communities. Better use of taxpayers’ dollars. And for people who have been incarcerated, a roadmap to a successful journey back into their community and hope for a better future.

Imagine . . .


Re-examining Reentry (from Justice Policy Institute) –

One – Revisited (from 2010 Grace Goes to Prison national speaking tour) –

Smart Reform is Possible report (from ACLU) –

(1) From Prison to Work: The Employment Dimensions of Prisoner Reentry –

(2) national recidivism figure from “State of Recidivism: The Revolving Door of America’s Prisons”, published in April 2011, by the Pew Center on the States –

Posted by Melanie Tagged as: city life lancaster pa restorative justice criminal justice rmo

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