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Lancaster County commissioner proposes county-run, post-prison program, a setback for for-profit Geo Group

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A proposal to award for-profit Geo Reentry Services a $361,000 contract to help inmates released from Lancaster County Prison return to society was set aside Tuesday when a county commissioner instead proposed creating a county position to oversee recidivism-fighting work.

Board of Commissioners Chair Josh Parsons offered the alternative, saying the proposed contract with Geo was too expensive and could provoke activists and concerned citizens to continue creating a distraction with opposition to Geo.

“Therefore, I’m left to think of other options, and one of those is to bring this position in-house,” Parsons said at a work session where a bid-evaluation committee recommended contracting with sole-bidder Geo.

Parsons said top administrators at the prison, Adult Probation and Parole, and Behavioral Health & Developmental Services have the expertise and are already transitioning, in a separate project, to evidence-based practices.

Commissioner Craig Lehman said Parsons’ proposal was worth considering. With Commissioner Dennis Stuckey’s concurrence, the board agreed to discuss the idea at another work session, possibly Tuesday, July 10.

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Linda Schreiner, senior buyer for Lancaster County, center, discusses funding Tuesday of reentry services for inmates released from Lancaster County Prison. At left is Harry Klinger, the county's purchasing director. At right is Cheryl Steberger, warden.

“Positive” development

Justice reform advocates, who contend that Geo Rentry Services, a division of Florida-based Geo Group, would put profit ahead of parolees’ needs, said they’re pleased the commissioners postponed action to consider an alternative.

“Ultimately, rejecting this bid from Geo would be a huge win for the community,” Michelle Hines with Lancaster Stands Up said.

Neil Ward with Have a Heart prison watchdog group called the suggestion to make reentry services a county program a positive development.

At several commissioners meetings in recent months, Geo opponents made impassioned pleas against awarding the company a contract, instead seeking continued funding of Lancaster Reentry Management Organization. Its $100,000 contract ends June 30.

John Hogan, the manager of Geo Reentry Services in Pennsylvania, said in an interview he was pleased and grateful to learn of the bid-evaluation committee’s positive recommendation.

“We will look forward to the (commissioners) meeting later in July,” he said.

In a related matter, a county official said $50,000 in state human services block grant funding will allow Compass Mark of Lancaster to retain its family service advocate who helps children who have a parent in county jail.

Compass Mark expected to end the $66,000 program June 30 because of a shift in the way the county decided to fund prison-related human services. Alternative county funding was freed up after the Children & Youth Agency ended one of its programs. Compass Mark will look to raise the remaining funds.

Commissary account

Commissioners Parsons and Stuckey last year ended ad hoc funding of nonprofits Compass Mark, Lancaster Reentry Management Organization and two other agencies. Lehman opposed the shift.

For several years, those programs were awarded contracts funded through the prison’s commissary fund, an account replenished by a portion of the money inmates spend on candy, clothing and other personal items. The account stood at $923,000 at the end of May.

In a change, the commissioners last year started requiring providers to go through the same competitive, request-for-proposals process the county uses to contract for other services.

But in the end, only Geo Reentry Services submitted a bid. Other groups found the county’s proposal for post-release services too restrictive and did not compete for funding.

Parsons said if the county creates an in-house reentry services position, it could be funded by the commissary account, not by taxpayers.

In one other development, the same bid-evaluation panel that recommended a contract for Geo also recommended against continued funding of New Choices/ New Beginnings.

The Lancaster nonprofit, which offers pre-employment training to female inmates, was the only bidder for commissary-funded human services inside the prison. Its $80,000 contract ends June 30.

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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.