County Hall Corner: Crime and Punishment

The saying goes that crime doesn’t pay, but that is not completely true, because someone does pay — the taxpayer. When a crime is committed, emergency services are utilized, if an arrest is made, the court system gets involved, and if guilt is determined, the penal system is engaged. And all of these cost money!

These expenses are regular discussion points in the County Commissioners meetings. In the September 3rd meeting, there was a robust discussion revolving around the hiring of Executive Secretary Ekaterina Ferguson for newly elected Judge Tira. The line item was for $32,670.68. Commissioner Mirabito did not vote in favor, advocating that the position be eliminated and the four judges should share three executive secretaries between them and the President Judge Nancy Butts would have her own secretary. While his proposal was made it good faith, it did not meet best practice. Commissioner Mussare’s research revealed that there was not a single county in the Commonwealth that has judges who share secretaries.

Also at the same meeting a discussion arose (again) over GEO Reentry Services. It was in September of 2014, exactly five years ago, that GEO was contracted as the outsourced agency to reduce prison population. Rather than a simplistic “lock them up” approach to law-offenders, only to see the offenders returning back to prison later, the Lycoming County Adult Probation Department worked with the county judges and district attorney’s office to develop the structure for an alternative to incarceration. It was their efforts that led to outsourcing with GEO Reentry Services.

By all metrics, this program has been extremely successful. The concept is not just monitoring, but through therapy and“ training, it offers life and job skills and thus treats offenders’ “criminal thinking errors.” The program is also licensed under the Department of Health to provide outpatient substance abuse treatment.

After five years of work with Lycoming County, Commissioner Tony Mussare is a firm believer in the program. He has noted that GEO has not just been tremendously successful in their goals, but has also saved the county enormous amounts of money in the process. It has totally eliminated the need and expense of shipping inmates to other counties and at the same time has reduced recidivism.

Scott Metzger, recently retired deputy chief adult probation officer, spoke up at the work session of the County Commissioner Meeting on Tuesday, September 10th, on the impact of GEO which he has worked with first-hand. He has noted that GEO paid about $100,000 to help renovate the county building for their program. In fact, Metzger asserts that GEO has saved $2.4 million in the five years of the program by reducing incarceration both in county and in other counties.

In fact, the county was paying $600,000 annually to other counties to house inmates. Now with open beds in the prison due to GEO, the county is able to outsource the county prison to the US Marshalls which brings in about $33,000/monthly, adding up to $400,000 annually. So, if all these numbers are added up, this program is paying for itself!

But more than money, this program really works to change behavior. This was evidenced at the 10th Bi-Annual Transition Ceremony hosted by GEO Lycoming County Reentry Services Center on Friday, September 6th. It had the feeling of a revival service. Three of the graduates testified of their personal transformation through the program, and one of the alumni shared about her present work situation that she owed to GEO. One of the very enthusiastic graduates said it the best, “This is not a program, it is a family.”

In the past five years, 347 people have graduated through this program, and the recidivism rate is 18 percent. If that sounds high, consider that the national recidivism rate is 67 percent. So, do the math. Think of the cost savings over incarceration, think of the behavioral change and resulting lower recidivism, think of the intangible costs of lower crime to the overall health of the community. Those numbers add up nicely.