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Recidivism rate for inmates on the rise?

Published On: Mar 03 2013 07:00:00 PM EST   Updated On: Mar 05 2013 06:01:26 AM EST

When people leave Pennsylvania prisons, a new report says more than half of them come back.

When people leave Pennsylvania prisons, a new report says more than half of them come back. But the numbers may not be all they're cracked up to be, according to county corrections leaders.

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections' 2013 Recidivism Report says 60 percent of inmates return within three years.

"It's a major issue everywhere," said Northampton Co. Executive John Stoffa.

Stoffa said, in his county, it was even bigger issue 10 years ago.

"We're going in the right direction," he said. "We need to continue that."

In Northampton Co., 44 percent of inmates return to jail, according to the DOC's figures. Stoffa said it was close to 70 percent when he took office a decade ago.

The report says Lehigh County's rate is 49 percent, although the county's chief of staff says it's lower.

"The three-year rate was 35-percent," said chief of state Frank Kane.

None of these numbers may be all that accurate. Prison return rates can vary widely from one county to the next because each place calculates that number a little bit differently. For instance, Lehigh Co. does not count parole violators, or child support and traffic offenders. Northampton Co. does.

"We almost include everybody," said Stoffa.

No matter what the numbers, counties are crunching to keep offenders away.

"We do employment readiness, we do anger management," said Kane.

Northampton Co. instituted a six-month rehab program that's kept the prison population lower. Stoffa said developer Abe Atiyeh's rehab center West Easton has helped control the jail population too.

"If you don't treat people for drugs and alcohol, they're going to come back," he said.

The state report says burglary suspects are the most likely to be reincarcerated, while drunk drivers are the least. It says taxpayers could save $45 million by cutting the prison return rate by 10 percent.

Attempts to create specialty drug and veterans' courts here have failed, though.

"We need to do better, and you can't just close your eyes to that system because it costs too much and it'll grow by leaps and bounds," said Sotffa.

Read the full report.