Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Contact 90.5 WESA with a story idea or news tip:

Pennsylvania Joins Four-State Study To Prevent Prison Reentry

Marc Levy
Over 47,600 people were in the custody of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections in July.

Over half of Pennsylvania’s state prisoners end up back behind bars within five years of their release, according to official data. But the state is now participating in a study on how to bring that number down.

Researchers with the Safe Streets and Second Chances initiative will create reentry plans with inmates while they’re still in prison. Principal researcher Carrie Pettus-Davis said re-entrants will continue to receive services for up to nine months following their release. Researchers will track outcomes for the former prisonsers for at least five years.

“It’s a highly adaptive and individualized model,” she said, “and the amount of programming that a person receives is really based on their hopes, their aspirations, and their needs.”

Mark Holden of Koch Industries, which is helping to support the initiative, said it will provide a higher level of assistance than other reentry programs.

“Our whole vision is that the planning for the reentry back into society for incarcerated people needs to begin on day one of incarceration,” he added, “not 60 days out, not a year out -- day one.”

The program is being funded with support from the Charles Koch Institute. 

At a news conference last week, Pennsylvania Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said common barriers to successful reentry include substance abuse, mental illness, and the lack of a high school diploma.

The study has already started, and is slated to include 400 inmates who plan to return to Allegheny, Fayette, and Washington counties.

Pettus-Davis said that to her knowledge, the study is the largest scientific trial of its kind. It also includes counties in Florida, Kentucky, and Texas.

Pennsylvania’s researchers will be based at Goodwill of Southwestern Pennsylvania in Lawrenceville. The nonprofit provides workforce training and employment to former prisoners.

Correction: This article has been changed to reflect the affilation of Mark Holden and the period during which former prisoners will receive services after their release.