Agencies Work to Lower Jail Recidivism

By Reilly, Richard Byrne | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, October 16, 2006 | Go to article overview

Agencies Work to Lower Jail Recidivism


Reilly, Richard Byrne, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


On a golf course near Philadelphia in 2004, Ramon Rustin was about to tee off with co-workers from the Chester County Jail when a pickup stopped and a man got out.

"Hey, Rustin!" the man yelled. "Remember me?"

Rustin, then a deputy warden at the Chester County lockup, once supervised the man, who had been a chronic criminal offender. Rustin said the man told him he now was a supervisor at the course where the men were playing golf. He thanked Rustin for his help.

It was a rare success story. Nearly 66 percent of the country's 10 million jail inmates end up back behind bars, according to state and federal statistics.

"We're constantly disappointed in this business because so many people come and go," said Rustin, warden at the Allegheny County Jail since October 2004. "So hearing this, a success story where we made a difference, it made us feel good."

Allegheny County officials are working to cut rates of chronic offenders by beefing up programs for inmates nearing release. Preliminary findings of a yet-to-be-completed study show a 30 percent drop in recidivism since three top county administrators began the push in 2004. In that year, 62 percent of Allegheny County jail inmates released that year were charged with committing new crimes. In 2005, that rate fell to 42 percent, according to the research.

The study by the Allegheny County Department of Human Services and the University of Pittsburgh's School of Social Work and Center for Social Problems follows 400 inmates. The study was paid for by 15 regional foundations and is due to be released next summer.

"Right now, Allegheny County doesn't understand the basic principles of re-entry (into society)," Rustin said. "The public thinks that when you lock somebody up, that's the end of the problem. But it's not.

"They're all getting out," he said. "And we need to make sure the person we're releasing is better off than when they were arrested."

Marc Cherna, director of the Allegheny County Department of Human Services, has raised $500,000 from several Pittsburgh foundations to pay for the study and for the county's 12 inmate re-entry programs, which include intensive drug and alcohol counseling and job placement help.

Rustin, Cherna and Dr. Bruce Dixon, director of the county health department, meet once a month to review re-entry programs. Among their efforts:

* A new software program, called the Offender Management System, that helps track inmates' behavior and can identify problems early.

* A pod recently set aside at the jail for low-threat inmates who demonstrate interest in improving their lives. Once there, they have ready access to programs such as accelerated learning classes, behavioral therapy and drug and alcohol rehabilitation. Dixon said the jail's drug and alcohol treatment programs are among the most comprehensive in Pennsylvania. …

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