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Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Suspends Referrals As They Attempt to Rein in Spending on Ree

Corrections Officials Suspend Referrals, Review Contracts As They Prepare to Rein in Spending on Reentry Services

Elizabeth Hardison - August 30, 2019

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections has temporarily frozen new spending on some services for recently released inmates and may cut expenditures in certain areas pending the outcome of an internal review, an official confirmed to the Capital-Star on Friday.

Private vendors who provide formerly incarcerated people with family counseling, mentoring services, and housing assistance were notified on Thursday that they will not receive any new referrals from the Department of Corrections for the next 60 to 90 days, according to George Little, executive deputy secretary for Community Corrections and Reentry.

The suspension won’t affect anyone currently receiving those services, Little said. But it does mean that new reentrants will not be able to access them unless they’re connected through a local agency.

It also means that vendors — many of them small, community-based nonprofits and aid organizations — will have to go two to three months without any new business in those areas.

At the same time, the Department of Corrections will review contracts and reassess its spending across all of its 11 reentrant service areas, which include sex offender services, alcohol and drug treatment, and workforce development.

The temporary suspension of some service referrals is expected to save the department $2 million to $4 million, Little said.

The announcement comes amid a flurry of cost-saving actions in the Corrections department, which faces a $140 million shortfall in its $2.1 billion budget for the 2019-2020 fiscal year.

Spending on reentry programs, which are designed to help inmates prepare for their release from prison, has ballooned in recent years, Little said, as Pennsylvania’s prison populations have fallen.

While recidivism rates among Pennsylvania’s former inmates have trended downward over the same time period, the department has not closely monitored which programs offer the most promising outcomes to reentrants and taxpayers, he said.

“We’ve seen this explosive growth in reentry services… but bigger isn’t necessarily better,” Little said. “We want to make sure we are spending funds wisely.”

The department began reviewing its vendor contracts a month ago to see which ones correlate with reentrant success. Little said that Corrections staff compared program rosters with rearrest and drug test records — a process they plan to automate in the future.

Expenditures in three service areas in particular have shown rapid growth in recent years, Little said: housing assistance, which can include rent support; family reunification, which helps reentrants prepare to live with children, partners, and other relatives; and mentoring.

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