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Politics & Government

Efforts to Curb Recidivism at the Allegheny County Jail

Mark Nootbaar
90.5 WESA

Allegheny County Jail officials are working to find new and effective ways to curb recidivism. Charlee Song has this second of two parts.

With support and rehabilitation in every aspect of their lives, some people have been able to build new lives and avoid going through a revolving door at the jail.  It's not easy, and it takes a lot of resources:  GED and job training; interview skills; drug and alcohol addiction treatment; cognitive behavioral therapy to identify and modify "criminal thinking" and "risk thoughts"; parenting classes and interaction with family specialists; and services for a year after release.

These services are implemented by the Allegheny County Jail Collaborative, which was formed in 2000, when recidivism stood at 71%.  The jail, the Department of Human Services, and the Department of Health sought to improve public safety by reducing that number.  The Court of Common Pleas has since become part of the Collaborative, and when a Pitt study released in 2008 showed the effectiveness of services offered to inmates, the Collaborative received grants to expand from the U.S. Department of Justice and from national and local foundations.  There’s also been an effort to divert people with addiction or mental health issues to housing other than the jail.  However, there still aren’t enough resources to serve everyone—so only those at medium to high risk of re-offending are chosen for the Re-Entry Program, though any inmate may take the classes if there's room.

Amy Kroll, administrator of Reentry Services, said an intense program is needed.  "To stop recidivism, we have to attack the biggest problem--those guys coming in time and time and time again, and those are the ones that are continually doing violations in the community."  

Darryl Coaston was released in October, 2011 after serving his sentence for selling drugs.  He credited the cognitive behavior class he took at the jail with changing his approach to possible confrontations in human relationships and helping him to identify "risk thoughts" that would have negative outcomes.

About 80% of inmates have addiction issues.  Darryl Coaston went to those classes too, even though he was not addicted to the drugs he sold.  He said, "I thought 'I'm not addicted', but I learned I was addicted to the lifestyle."  Coaston said positive male role models were lacking when he was growing up so it was easy to take the wrong path.

A Pitt study released in 2008 showed that recidivism for people in Collaborative programs was cut in half, and each $1 spent saved $6.  The cost of housing an inmate at the jail is $22,600 a year.  Studies of the expanded Jail Collaborative services are due this year from the Urban Institute and in 2014 from the Department of Justice.

Darryl Coaston didn’t have to wait for the studies.  "If you can't make it when you go through that program and come home, with the support and effort they give, it's totally because you don't want it."