Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

State Eyes Overhaul of Parole Process Halfway Houses a Focus of Program

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

State Eyes Overhaul of Parole Process Halfway Houses a Focus of Program

Article excerpt

HARRISBURG -- State officials are working to streamline parole interviews and focus halfway house rehabilitation on their parolees as they implement a law designed to save millions of dollars in corrections spending.

Efficiency measures and program overhauls in the state's penitentiary system are expected to save $253 million over five years, according to numbers from the Senate Republican Caucus.

One goal of the program is to help prisoners integrate into communities. Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, the bill's prime sponsor, said the prison return rate is 44 percent, and that focusing programs and spending on parolees would help lower that rate.

"It's a good investment in our communities because it is a public safety issue and a good way to save the state money," said Mr. Greenleaf, R-Montgomery County.

Department of Corrections spokeswoman Susan Bensinger said Pennsylvanians will first witness the transformation of the Community Corrections Centers and Community Corrections Facilities.

More commonly referred to as "halfway houses," these facilities will house only parolees, she said, because a decades-old practice known as pre-release will no longer be an option for inmates as of July 1, 2013, according to the law.

Halfway houses traditionally held both pre-release and paroled inmates, but that caused confusion in the halfway houses because each group had different requirements they had to meet from the state based on their release status, said Gregg Warner, counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Paroled inmates have served their minimum sentence or longer, while pre-release inmates have not reached that minimum date. Inmates whose minimum sentence date falls on or before May 31, 2013, have been notified that they may get a pre-release date to enter the halfway houses, Ms. Bensinger said.

"After that, they will have to earn parole at their minimum sentence," she said. …

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