The featured speaker during CRESC's April 2017 meeting was Luis Resto. Resto serves as the Deputy Director of Programs and Administration for the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections' Bureau of Community Corrections (PA DOC BCC). Resto presented an overview of the role of the Bureau of Community Corrections in the successful reintegration of ex-offenders into the community. Resto described the trends and changes within community corrections over the past 30 years as well as the impact of Act 122 on community corrections. Resto also discussed methods of combating the heroin epidemic in community corrections facilities including increasing reentrant engagement with drug and alcohol treatment providers in the community as well as increasing drug interdiction efforts throughout community corrections facilities. Resto discussed both similarities and differences between community corrections facilities; highlighting the implementation of the Universal Set of Rules as a large similarity throughout community corrections facilities in Pennsylvania and identifying differences in missions and reentrant populations as individual facility characteristics. More information about the PA DOC's Bureau of Community Corrections can be found here. CRESC would like to thank Mr. Resto for sharing his afternoon with us!
(The Mercury News) WEST CHESTER >> Many ex-offenders who have been convicted of a misdemeanor or felony deserve a “second chance,” Lt. Gov. Michael J. Stack said Thursday night at West Chester University.
Stack’s informative presentation was part of the program, Pathways to Pardons, an initiative with the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs.
The stigma associated with a criminal conviction can be devastating.
Often a criminal record stands in the way of an ex-offender getting a job. Many employment applications still feature a box for an applicant with a prior conviction to check.
Stack is chairman of the state Board of Pardons and spoke to about 50 ex-offenders, prison staffers and volunteers, and students. The lieutenant governor said that there is no race, color, creed or background that is safe from challenges.
"Pennsylvania has a legacy of being tough on crime,” Stack said. “We’ve all come to find out we’ve been stupid on crime. We believe in second chances. Nobody’s perfect, we all make mistakes.”
Stack said he wants ex-offenders to succeed.
“We’re punishing them over and over for the same crime,” he said. “We want to put that in the rear-view mirror.”
Sen. Andy Dinniman also spoke.
“We give a second chance if you’ve rehabilitated yourself,” Dinniman told the audience. “Welcome back into the community. We welcome your contributions.
The number of pardons granted has increased under Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration, according to Dinniman.
The West Chester Democrat said that 70 percent of offenders serve time for drug-related offences.
He listed three reasons the state has taken a “relook” at substance abuse sentences.
The senator said that it’s too expensive to keep prisoners behind bars; the state is overwhelmed by opioids; and prison is not the answer to dealing with addiction.
Stack said applicants must show the parole board that they’ve turned their lives around and are living up to their mistakes.
Dr. Ken Martz is a psychologist with the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs.
Ex-offenders should be giving back as good citizens, he said.
“Tonight is not about losses, it’s a journey of hope,” Martz said. “No one grew up and said I want to be addicted to heroin and live under a bridge. Recovery is not just a possibility, it is an expectation.”
Matt Franchak discussed rights and privileges that might be restored with a pardon and expungement, or erasing of a conviction.
Someone may recover the right to hold public office, serve on a jury, own and carry a firearm, serve in the military, travel internationally and seek once forbidden jobs.
The five member state Board of Pardons must favorably recommend granting a pardon, with the governor making the final call.
The review process has been streamlined, but it still takes approximately three years from the time an application is filed to be granted a review hearing at the state Capitol. The governor usually makes a decision after a positive board vote within three months.
Franchak said the average duration, or sweet spot, for earning a pardon is 10 years without another conviction.
“You’ve got to take ownership and (understand) how it impacted other people,” he said.
A pardon relieves an individual of consequences resulting from a conviction of a crime and constitutes total forgiveness, according to the state Board of Pardons Guide distributed at the presentation.
Receiving a pardon from the governor is the best way to clearing a criminal record, along with expungement, which also gives an offender the opportunity to avoid having to “check the box” on employment applications.
To expunge, an applicant must address the court where the conviction occurred.
An audience member who preferred to not be named, said that a conviction can hurt an ex-offender’s job prospects.
“I feel hope that the state is taking some steps to help people who have made a mistake and are incarcerated so they can re-enter society as a productive citizen,” she said.
Steve Burk, with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, said that 16,000 staffers work at 25 state correctional institutions, along with 14 community centers. The average maximum sentence is 16 years and the average minimum is seven.
The average age of an inmate is 38. With 47,000 state inmates, 35,700 suffer from substance abuse.
(CNN) Every year, more than 650,000 men and women leave prison and return home to communities across America. They are often released with little more than some spare change, a bus ticket and a criminal record that bars access to some of their most basic rights and privileges.
Facing deep social stigma, many returning citizens feel as though they have left the grips of a physical prison only to find themselves engulfed in a new, social prison. It is tragic but not surprising that 50% to 75% of all people who return home from prison end up incarcerated again within five years.
In today's knowledge economy, higher education is one of the first rungs on the ladder to economic freedom and social mobility. Too many formerly incarcerated Americans never climb this ladder -- or reach for it at all.
The lack of high-quality education and job training options for people in prison have led to the vast majority being woefully underprepared to re-enter society. Their skill gaps make our communities less safe -- and families less stable -- since without better options, many will return to the lifestyles that got them into trouble in the first place.
It is also shameful that in many communities across America, too many young people are more likely to know someone living in prison than living on a college campus.
We must act urgently to increase opportunities for education, workforce skills, entrepreneurship and rehabilitation for individuals who are incarcerated. By doing so we can work aggressively to prevent young people from going down the wrong path again, keeping them out of prison by providing access to college rather than a slippery slope to prison.
First, we need to lift the ban on access to Pell Grants for incarcerated individuals. This approach provides motivated individuals an opportunity to turn their lives around. When the Pell Grant program began, all qualifying students including the incarcerated were eligible to receive small amounts of federal funding to help pay for college tuition.
Beginning with the enactment of the 1994 crime bill, incarcerated individuals were excluded from receiving federal funds. As a result, nearly 350 in-prison college programs across the country disintegrated.
In 2015, the Second Chance Pell pilot program was announced, which has already helped 12,000 incarcerated individuals receive grants to access higher education in state and federal facilities across the country. We should expand this pilot program, or make it permanent.
Second, we should expand access to all federal student loan programs for incarcerated juveniles and adults. Some believe this approach makes fiscal sense and will help make our streets safer and economy more prosperous. For example, a study from the RAND Corp. showed that a $1 investment in education yields $4 to $5 in public safety cost-savings. It also found that individuals who received education while behind bars were 43% less likely to end up back in prison and 13% more likely to obtain employment following their release.
Third, we must ensure that individuals convicted of drug-related crimes are not barred from financial aid or federal student loans if they choose to pursue a college degree. It is counterproductive to lock individuals out of opportunity for higher learning after they have paid their debt to society, especially when there has been a growing, bipartisan movement to ensure that individuals convicted of drug crimes receive access to treatment and rehabilitation, moving them toward a path to success. It is past time.
These recommendations are highlighted in a new campaign by the Institute for Higher Education Policy, #CollegeNotPrison. They have also been endorsed by #cut50, the national bipartisan criminal justice reform organization founded by Van.
Ninety-five percent of people behind bars today will eventually return back to their communities. Our challenge is to ensure they return with skills that make them less likely to commit future crimes. If we successfully provide access to affordable, high-quality education options for justice-involved individuals, we will be able to better address incarceration that bars too many Americans from opportunity through higher education.
We need to stop wasting genius in America and start opening doors to opportunity.
Editor's Note: Van Jones is president of Dream Corps and Rebuild the Dream, which promote innovative solutions for America's economy. He was President Barack Obama's green jobs adviser in 2009. Gerard Robinson, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, is a former Florida education commissioner and Virginia secretary of education. The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the authors.
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