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Northampton County announces plan to keep former offenders out of prison

By Will Lewis, Reporter, WLewis@wfmz.com
Published On: Mar 19 2014 05:00:00 PM CDT
Updated On: Mar 21 2014 06:52:34 AM CDT

Tackling the recidivism rate -- Northampton County says it has a plan to keep inmates from returning to jail after they're released.

BETHLEHEM, Pa. -

Tackling the recidivism rate -- Northampton County says it has a plan to keep inmates from returning to jail after they're released.

Wednesday officials unveiled a strategy they've been working on for nearly two years.

The Northampton County Criminal Justice Advisory Board hosted a summit to help identify key areas that could help make a smoother transition from prison life to life on the streets.

The numbers on the screen were startling, more than 60% of prisoners are re-arrested within three years of being released from prison.

“At the jail we’re good at locking folks up when the judge tells us to, and letting them go when he says let them go," said Arnold Matos, Director of Northampton County Corrections. "But in order for us to be successful and helping them re-enter society, we need to engage the community at large.”

The board unveiled a plan to help more than 100 attendees find ways to help prisoners re-enter society.

Five key areas were identified: education, drug and alcohol treatment, housing, employment, and mental health.

“Any kind of plan to help folks make a successful transition from being part of the criminal justice system back to community life, we want to make sure that services and supports are there to meet those needs,” added Dennis Marion, Deputy secretary of the PA office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse services.

Organizers say research has proven that people getting help in these areas have a lower recidivism rate.

And there are a lot of people transitioning back into life on the streets every day.

“When you get locked up in the local jail, 95 - 98% of the folks return to the local community,” said Matos.

Now the goal is to find funding to keep programs going and to raise awareness that one agency can't do it all.

“In order for us to be successful we need all of the stakeholders, all of the community agencies, everyone in the community to get involved," added Matos.

Officials also say volunteer programs inside prison are helping, but even those programs don't work if the person has no place to continue the program once a prison sentence is complete.