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County staff and community members attend a county commissioners work session June 26, 2018, at which funding of reentry services for Lancaster County Prison inmates was discussed.

Lancaster County took a step Tuesday toward creating a prison staff position to coordinate recidivism-fighting services, such as housing and counseling, for newly-released inmates.

The prison’s commissary account — replenished by part of what prisoners spend on snacks, clothing and personal items — would pay for the first-of-its-kind county job.

Board of Commissioners chair Josh Parsons proposed the position as an alternative to a controversial $361,000 contract with for-profit Geo Reentry Services, the only bidder to the county’s request for a reentry services provider.

Lancaster County had a $100,000 contract with Lancaster Reentry Management Organization. But after helping parolees for over a decade, the nonprofit did not submit a bid this year for a new contract.

“I actually think it’s quite an opportunity for the Lancaster County criminal justice system to continue to be innovative and create best-of-class programs, as we’ve already done,” Parsons said of his proposal at a work session.

Fellow commissioners Craig Lehman and Dennis Stuckey said creating an in-house position was worth considering.

Parsons asked prison staff to write a job description, which the commissioners plan to review at an Aug. 13 salary board meeting.

“Unfortunate” decision

Monica Hook, a vice president with Geo Group, said in an email to LNP the company respects the commissioners’ decision, but added that it’s “unfortunate” for those “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,” Hook said.

Parsons said he thinks the reentry coordinator should report to the warden. He noted the county prison’s track record of collaborating with agencies to prevent suicides, secure post-release services for mentally ill inmates and other initiatives.

“The prison has been doing more and more of that because of the interest of reducing recidivism,” Parsons said. “We have different (criminal justice) departments, but because of the collaborative nature, it’s become one system.”

Stuckey said a benefit of creating a county position and no longer paying an outside provider is it “gives us ownership of this process and in my opinion makes us more accountable for success over time.”

Lancaster RMO served about 60 former inmates in its intensive case management program, which included housing for three months. Parsons said he’d like to serve more clients and add a counseling component that addresses criminal behavior.

RMO funding

Michelle Hines, a leader of citizen opposition to Geo Reentry Services, asked if the county would partner with Geo after hiring a reentry coordinator.

“That’s not the idea, and there’s not a plan to do that,” Parsons said. “I know there has been some concern or distrust throughout this process, and I want to make sure that any steps we take, that the public has opportunity to weigh in.”

In an interview, Kristy Aurand, spokeswoman for Community Action Partnership, which oversees the RMO, said the RMO’s intensive program was put on hold after its contract expired June 30.

“We’re willing to search for other sources of funding to potentially bring that program back to life,” Aurand said, “and would love to work with the county to explore options for that.”

The RMO spent $74,260 of its former  $100,000 contract on transitional housing and professional services, such as mental health counseling. The rest went to salaries and benefits, Aurand said.