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Ex-convict attributes post-prison success to Lancaster County nonprofits; the future of those organizations remains unclear

LANCASTER, Pa. --  Nonprofits have helped transition people out of prison and back into society for years in Lancaster County.

Tonight, some concern because a for-profit company put in a request for proposal (RFP) to oversee those services, and some people say it's a conflict of interest.

That's because the company owns prisons and detention centers throughout the United States.

Here is a list of 141 places where GEO Group owns and/or operates prisons, detention centers, and reentry facilities.

However, a spokeswoman says the company would not be taking over Lancaster County Prison; rather, it would provide services to people after their prison release, similar to what the nonprofits have been doing.

One ex-convict from Lancaster County Prison is skeptical because he says nonprofits in the area helped him find his way.

Closing the door on prison life and moving on to a better chapter: Danny Rivera of Lancaster credits his post-prison success to two things: God and the Lancaster County nonprofits that supported him on his journey.

"First of all, God. God is first and foremost. He has given me the strength," said Rivera.

Rivera spent three years behind bars for selling drugs, two at Lancaster County Prison. Near the end of his sentence, he, like many inmates, worried about the future.

"It's like walking in a maze; you need a map to get out, and these people are giving us a map to find a way out," explained Rivera.

He says those nonprofits helped him buy a car and find work. Now, Rivera is worried about the future of those organizations and the services they provide.

That's because, for the first time, the non-profits were required to submit a request for proposal, but none did.

However, for-profit company GEO Group submitted one. GEO Group specializes in privatized corrections facilities which some say could be a conflict of interest. A spokeswoman told FOX43 over the phone that's not the case, and the company would work in conjunction with Lancaster County nonprofits.

"We operate facilities that are prisons, but we also operate reporting centers, re-entry centers that are residential. We don't offer all the programs and services needed in every community, so we partner with entities that do; we work with nonprofits specifically," said Monica Hook, a spokeswoman.

She sent FOX43 this written statement via email, "The GEO Group has a strong history of maintaining positive, collaborative, working relationships with government, non-profit, and for-profit organizations in every community we serve. One of the most prevalent criticisms is that GEO has a conflict of interest in Lancaster County. This statement is untrue. GEO does not determine which individuals are candidates for our community-based programs or how long they receive services, nor does GEO take a position on or advocate for or against any specific criminal justice or sentencing policies. Our profit motivation has not and will never compromise our commitment to provide effective evidenced-based programs that help returning citizens reintegrate successfully.”

Hook added  GEO Care, a separate division of GEO Group, focuses on community reentry services, and that's the division that would oversee the county's reentry programs.

A portion of GEO Care's website reads, "For correctional agencies seeking flexible solutions that hold individuals accountable, enhance public safety and contain costs, GEO Care delivers comprehensive approaches to manage, rehabilitate and treat individuals inside secure settings and throughout the community."

For people like Rivera, it's personal, and he says locals should be the only ones helping in Lancaster County.

"This is a 717 matter, area code, Lancaster matter, and nobody from a different place, from out of town should be handling our matters," said Rivera.

A committee is looking over GEO Group's proposal and will soon be making a recommendation to the Lancaster County Commissioners.

Rivera is urging people to attend the Lancaster County commissioners meeting tomorrow night and state their opinions on the matter.

It's scheduled for 7:00 p.m. at Warwick Township Municipal Building at 315 Clay Road in Lititz.

Joshua Parsons, a Lancaster County Commissioner sent FOX43 this email in part, relating to the proposals and concern from community members: "I understand organizations sometimes seek to galvanize supporters through spirited public relations campaigns.  However, as I am sure you aware, advocacy is not helpful if it is not accurate.  In fact, I regret to say that some of the advocacy here has crossed the line from simply inaccurate to dissemination of outright false information.

First, we have been repeatedly accused of seeking to privatize the Prison.  As I have said repeatedly and at multiple public meetings, public safety is a core function of government.  Neither I nor anyone on the Prison Board has expressed any interest in this since I have been a member of the board.

Second, when a group does not apply for an RFP (Request for Proposal), which is what happened here, it is in my view improper to state that your funding is being cut off by the County.  I know there are genuine differences of opinion on this point as some believe RMO was precluded.  I will explore that more at a future BOC public session when this is discussed.

In fact, the RFP calls for reentry services that are very similar to what we are doing now.  There are, however, perhaps some more accountability measure to ensure results are being actually being achieved by the service provider and it might call for some changes to business practices.  I would, however, ask anyone to point me to the section that precludes the RMO from applying..."