RMO Executive Director, Melanie G. Snyder, recently gave a talk at a TEDx event on alternatives to incarceration and prisoner reentry.
Two and a half weeks shy of his 52nd birthday, Orrin Johnson achieved something that was 14 years in the making. He received his GED diploma in a special ceremony at McCaskey East High School, wearing full cap and gown regalia.
"I started working toward my GED back in 2000," Johnson explains. During some difficult years when he was experiencing homelessness, he took GED prep classes at Water Street Rescue Mission and at Bethesda Mission in Harrisburg. Johnson had also spent some time incarcerated at Lancaster County Prison and took GED classes there as well. Over the years, he tried taking the GED tests, sometimes passing, sometimes not. He passed three of them in the mid-2000's, and had two left to go. Then, another incarceration and struggles with addiction set him back . . .
On Thursday evening, June 12, Zena Gunsallus did something that, 10 years ago, she didn't know if she'd ever be able to do. She walked across the stage at McCaskey East High School wearing cap and gown to accept her GED diploma. Five days later, on Tuesday, June 17, she had another graduation: from Lancaster County Drug Court.
"I dropped out of school when I was 17 in my senior year of high school because I was pregnant," Gunsallus explains. "I didn't have a great life." She struggled with addiction, and wound up in and out of Lancaster County Prison. She spent four years trying to complete Drug Court.
"I made plenty of mistakes," she admits. "Finally, I realized I needed to change my life," she says.
"I had always known I wanted to go to beauty school, but just never had the motivation." She knew that to get into beauty school, she'd have to have her GED. She started taking GED classes offered by IU13 at Lancaster County Prison through a US Department of Education grant program called PRSCEO - Promoting Reentry Success through Continuity of Educational Opportunities. The PRSCEO program was initiated at the federal level because "a growing body of evidence shows that providing offenders with education and training increases their employment opportunities, addresses their cognitive deficits, and helps reduce their likelihood of recidivating."*
Lancaster County is one of only three sites in the nation that has received a grant from the US Department of Education to implement this model. Lancaster County's IU13 Adult Education and the Lancaster County Reentry Management Organization (RMO) partnered to submit the grant application and have been working closely together since July 1, 2013 to implement the program here. The program includes GED Preparation classes and Adult Basic Education classes at both Lancaster County Prison and PA CareerLink of Lancaster County. Participants also receive assistance with career and education planning and have the opportunity to participate in supportive reentry services through the RMO as well as reentry employment services like the Ready2Work program and occupational skills trainings at the CareerLink. Trish Link, Assistant Adult Education Director for IU-13, manages the project.
The GED classes for women at LCP are taught by IU13 instructor Mary Edith Leichliter.
"If it wasn't for Mary Edith at the prison, I would not have pursued this at that time," Gunsallus says.
Several weeks into her GED classes at the prison . . .
A recent piece in the Detroit News, titled "How Prisoner Re-Entry Lessens Crime", highlighted the following:
"Statistics show that about two-thirds of all criminal offenders will commit new crimes after their release from prison. Rather than releasing them at the conclusion of their sentences and hoping for the best, focusing on this population’s successful re-entry into our community is an essential part of a successful crime reduction strategy . . . Tough-on-crime platitudes make it convenient to dismiss or ignore the offender population, but effective crime control requires developing strategies to enable former offenders to succeed as citizens after they have paid their debt to society."
(link to the full Detroit News piece: http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20140506/OPINION01/305060001#ixzz318OVDolO
The Lancaster County Reentry Management Organization (RMO) Board of Directors, the RMO Providers group, and the CJAB Reentry Strategic Planning Subcommittee have reviewed and prioritized input on strategic priorities for reentry that were gathered from 15 separate stakeholder interviews, with 68 participants representing 41 agencies over the past six months. Here is the County’s Comprehensive CJAB Strategic Plan and the Strategic Plan for Reentry.