In Pennsylvania, boosting second chances and public safety

September 12, 2018

More than 2 million people are currently in prison across the United States. With 95 percent of them set to return to their communities one day, partners in government and business are collaborating to improve public safety, save money, and give people second chances.

That’s why—in collaboration with the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Right on Crime, the Charles Koch Foundation and Florida State University—Koch Industries is supporting Safe Streets & Second Chances, a program currently in Pennsylvania, Texas, Florida, and Kentucky that is developing individualized reentry programs using evidence-based research.

Pennsylvania’s Department of Corrections and Goodwill of Southwestern Pennsylvania announced their partnership with the program at a recent event in Pittsburgh featuring Koch General Counsel Mark Holden, who also serves as its advisory chairman. Several hundred inmates participating in the program are returning from prison to Allegheny, Fayette, and Washington counties in the Pittsburgh area.

“Our whole vision is that the planning for the reentry back into society for incarcerated people needs to begin on day one of incarceration. Not 60 days out. Not a year out. Day one,” Holden said. “We also believe every single person who ends up in the system should have a personalized reentry plan as soon as possible once they’re incarcerated.”

Holden praised the state’s efforts to help people reenter society, pointing to its treatment of inmates struggling with substance abuse and mental illnesses, and its efforts to help those incarcerated as juveniles transition to life outside prison. He also commended the state’s recent passage of the Clean Slate Act, which will automatically seal criminal records for misdemeanors and charges not leading to convictions.

Mentioning that states like Texas, Georgia, and South Carolina, have reduced their prison populations while reducing crime rates and saving taxpayers’ money, Holden said recent polling shows the public is increasingly receptive to such policies. Over 90 percent of those polled in a July survey said it is important to rehabilitate those who are in prison or who have been in prison.

There is also ample evidence to suggest that people on the inside are also looking for a different way. Incarcerated women and men want to work three and four times, respectively, as they currently do in prison, according to data from a Safe Streets & Second Chances survey conducted by a team led by Safe principal researcher Carrie Pettus-Davis at the Florida State University Institute for Justice Research and Development. Safe Streets & Second Chances has already recruited 1,300 people returning from prison to participate, Pettus-Davis said, with plans to add 900 more.

“For my entire adult life, this is the first time that I see, nationally, that there is a moral will, a fiscal will, and a political will to seek research and data on how to do things better,” Pettus-Davis said.

Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel also spoke at the event, as did Mike Smith, president and CEO, Goodwill of Southwestern Pennsylvania, which hosted the event at its workforce development center.

“This is not just a criminal justice problem; it’s a community problem,” Wetzel said. “So, its solution has to be a community-based solution.”