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Commission chairman proposes new inmate re-entry coordinator position for Lancaster County

LANCASTER, Pa. --- The question of what to do with prisoner re-entry services in Lancaster County moves toward another solution.

Previously, the county Community Action Partnership's request for a proposal (RFP) was denied.

The led to a request for proposal of a county partnership with GEO Group, a for-profit inmate rehabilitation company.

After some residents expressed concerns and criticism of the plan, the commission is moving to an "in-house" idea.

Commission Chairman Josh Parson proposed creating a county re-entry program coordinator with funding coming from Lancaster County Prison commissary funds, which is money spent by inmates within the prison, instead of taxpayers.

"This person would assist in that transition and set them up for success, whether it be employment or other issues like that that we know can reduce recidivism so that people are not coming back into the prison," said Parsons.

A spokeswoman with GEO Group issued the following statement: “We are pleased that Lancaster County commissioners recognized the quality of our reentry services, and we respect their decision. We are also proud of our successful track record in Lancaster and throughout the state of Pennsylvania, and we are committed to continue providing the best quality reentry services for years to come. It’s unfortunate that this procurement process impacts Lancaster county residents, who have earned the right to rebuild their lives. They will not be afforded the opportunity to receive GEO’s high quality, evidence-based reentry services and the best opportunity for successfully reentering society.”

Vanessa Philbert, impact team leader with the Lancaster County Community Action Partnership, or "CAP", said they've been doing some of this work already through the Re-entry Management Organization (ROM).

She said they've worked on an intensive pilot program, aiding with services such as getting housing plans for prisoners leaving custody.

She also said they look forward to keeping a public dialogue on the new position with questions about the job description and funding details.

"We have to keep in front of us the face of those returning citizens and making sure whatever system we create is one that's equitable and easy to access and has a level of excellence that continues to precedes Lancaster as a community," said Philbert.

Michelle Hines with the advocacy group Lancaster Stands Up said they're pleased the county commission is moving away from a potential GEO Group partnership.

She said they, ideally, want to see resources go to the community groups who invest in prisoners re-entering society.

"Transparency and collaboration with the community is going to be key to making sure that we can move forward and make this process work out the best for everybody," said Hines.

Commissioner Parsons said the next step is to put together a position with a job description.

That position will then be presented to the county salary board next month.

Upon approval, he said they'll look for their re-entry coordinator and put a plan in place for how the program will run.