The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

June 16, 2013

Rehabilitating criminals | Day reporting center's initial results promising

The Tribune-Democrat

JOHNSTOWN — With all of the bad news coming out of our local prisons and jails in the past few weeks, it was refreshing to find out that something is working in the region’s efforts to rehabilitate criminals.

The day reporting center, which is located in Cambria Township, celebrated its first anniversary last week and, by all accounts, things are going well for it and its “clients.”

The program, which is a new approach in Cambria County’s criminal justice system, allows those convicted of nonviolent crimes to sleep in their own beds before checking in to the day reporting center. They might be required to take a drug or alcohol test. Some may stick around for abuse-counseling, anger-management or even job-readiness sessions. Many are then able to leave the center to work a full-time job.

The way we see it, this is a good thing. Rather than wasting away their days in a tiny prison cell, these people have a chance to be productive members of society. Isn’t that the real goal of the corrections system – to take criminals and rehabilitate them?

We’re not naive enough to think that this could work with every criminal, or that every criminal should get this opportunity. But the program is designed for nonviolent offenders – think DUI, drugs or maybe even a burglary conviction – and is a way for them to get their lives back on track. And, for the first year, it seems to be working.

“I really feel good (that) we have this option,” Cambria County President Judge Timothy Creany told our Kathy Mellott. “We’re to the point defendants and defense lawyers are asking for it.”

So far, the results have been mixed, with about the same number of clients doing well in the program as washing out. The final one-third has made significant effort, Creany said.

“We’re watching to see what happens. The statistics before were not good,” he said.

We understand the challenges that the program faces. Rehabilitating criminals is not easy, which is part of the reason that the prison system in this country is burdened with such a staggering number of inmates; but programs like this can make a huge difference, not just in the lives of enrollees, but in large segments of our population.

“Society tells us, if we can change the way a person thinks, we can change their behavior,” said John Hogan, program manager.

That service alone would be enough to make the program worthwhile, but there is an added incentive: Money.

The center can free up prison beds at the county lock-up, beds that will stay available for rental to out-of-county inmates. It’s also cheaper to keep inmates in the day reporting center than at the county jail, with an estimated savings of $31 per enrollee per day.

Those savings are important, especially since the start-up and operating costs for the program have been significant.

Even with those initial snags, we think it’s been an impressive first year, as does Cambria County President Commissioner Doug Lengenfelder.

“I do feel good about the (day reporting) program, but they say we can’t determine the rate of recidivism until we’ve been at it for three years,” Lengenfelder said. “I feel there is a real opportunity to benefit the community along with the clients.”

We’re look for increasing success from the program in the years to come.

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