With overall recidivism as a baseline the state is voiding all the contracts with the 38 privately owned community corrections centers -- better known as half-way houses -- requiring each to rebid and making the new contracts performance-based.
Under the new contracts, if the overall recidivism rate for inmates passing through the center decline, the contractor will be paid a higher rate. Profit will be tied to public safety.
"They'll be required to maintain that baseline and will be incentivized if they reduce [recidivism,]" said Brett Bucklen director of planning, research and statistics for Pennsylvania's Department of Corrections.
If a facility is able to reduce overall recidivism rates by 10 percent, it will get paid more per offender.
"We want to measure performance. We want quantifiable performance," Bucklen said. The measurements will be conducted by the state, which will collect and compare all data.
The counties with the top five overall recidivism rates include two from western Pennsylvania -- Allegheny at 65.5 percent and Blair with 61.6 percent. The surrounding counties stack up like this: Lawrence, 56 percent; Beaver, 57 percent; Butler, 57 percent; Washington, 60 percent; and Westmoreland, 53 percent.
Holding community correction centers accountable for their performance when it comes to reducing overall recidivism has the feel of an evidence-based, sabermetric approach to reducing prison population and saving costs, but it has its risks.
The primary concern is the quality of the data. Community Correction Centers often seek outside intervention for assaultive behavior or other misconducts that could give rise to technical parole violations or criminal charges. Would there be less incentive to report such conduct to a parole agent or police officer if the report could have an impact on an incentive payment or the continuation of the contract.
What does this mean for public safety? A parolee, who continues her criminal thinking, possesses illegal drugs or manifests violent conduct should not be out of prison and on the street. The Department of Corrections needs to be vigilant in insuring that community correction vendors are not putting profits ahead of public safety.
(Image: Lyudmyla Nesterenko/Getty Images)
Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George, P.C. He is the former district attorney of Lawrence County and just completed a six year term on the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole. He is a featured columnist for the Pennsylvania Law Weekly and a regular contributor to the Youngstown Vindicator. You can read his musings on crime and punishment at www.mattmangino.com and follow Matt on Twitter @MatthewTMangino.