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Report: Alternative Prison Punishment Program Reducing Recidivism, But It's Still Underutilized

Flickr user Martin

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections’ State Intermediate Punishment, or SIP, program aims to help non-violent offenders get needed treatment with the ultimate goal of ensuring they don’t become repeat offenders.

The latest report on SIP found the program does seem to be working.

“The recidivism rate for the SIP offenders is 10 percentage points lower than a comparable rate of a group of inmates who do not go through SIP, who go through traditional sentencing,” said DOC spokeswoman Susan McNaughton.

SIP consists of four phases over two years. Phase one involves imprisonment in a state correctional institution for less than seven months. During this phase at least four months are spent in a therapeutic community treatment program – an inpatient alcohol and drug treatment program. Phase two requires a minimum of two months in a community-based treatment program; phase three requires a minimum of six months of outpatient addiction treatment during which the participant would be housed in a community corrections center or in an approved transitional residence. Phase four is DOC supervised reintegration into the community.

Not all inmates are eligible to participate in SIP. Those who are include inmates convicted of a nonviolent drug-related offense. By reducing the recidivism rate, McNaughton said the program saves the state money.

“Prison space is very expensive,” she said. “We really should save that expensive cell space for the individuals who are violent and really need to be removed from society.”

SIP saves $33,250 per participant and since it started has saved the state nearly $80 million. Currently, there are 836 offenders in the program, according to McNaughton.

“SIP is still being underutilized,” she said. “Only 24 percent of eligible cases are actually being referred and if more were referred, taxpayers could see a greater cost savings.”

To try and increase participation, McNaughton said corrections officials continue to talk to and hold trainings with sentencing judges, public defenders, district attorneys and others to raise awareness that the program is out there.