Blair rearrest rate fifth highest

The percentage of prisoners from Blair County sentenced to state facilities who wind up reincarcerated is among the highest in the state, a new Pennsylvania Department of Corrections study shows.

The recidivism rate – the percentage of released inmates arrested for new crimes or reincarcerated for parole violations – is 61.6 percent for Blair County.

Only four of the state’s 67 counties have higher recidivism rates: Dauphin, 67.3 percent; Philadelphia, 65.5 percent; Allegheny, 61.9 percent; and Montgomery, 61.7 percent.

Recidivism for inmates sentenced to state correctional facilities from Cambria and Huntingdon counties is 61 percent and 60 percent, respectively, also placing those two counties in the top 10 in Pennsylvania, according to the 2013 Recidivism Report.

The study is the most comprehensive ever done on recidivism in the state prison system, officials said.

According to Corrections Secretary John E. Wetzel, the study will enable the state to measure progress in the Corbett administration’s attempts to reform the corrections system, with the goals to lower correctional costs, reduce recidivism and improve public safety.

The report is based on an analysis of inmates released from state correctional facilities from 2006 to 2008, and a review of how many were rearrested or sent back to a state facility during the next three years.

Bret Bucklen, the director of DOC’s Department of Planning, Research and Statistics, said the study found that rearrests appear to occur more often in urban counties, while parole violations that resulted in a return to state facilities appear more often in rural areas.

Blair County, he said, was an anomaly because the county was among the top four in the state for rearrests, behind Philadelphia, Carbon and Dauphin.

Of the 349 inmates from Blair County released from the state correctional system over the three-year period, 196 were arrested on new charges, a 56.2 percent rate.

When it came to reincarceration, a statistic driven primarily by parole violations, Blair County stood at 42 percent, the same as Cambria. Bedford County’s reincarceration rate was at 51 percent.

A third set of figures summarized the overall recidivism rate, which showed that 215 of Blair’s 349 released inmates wound up back in the system. In Cambria, 125 out of 205 released inmates were in trouble during the three years of the study.

Blair County has a major drug problem, and Bucklen said that drug offenders were among the leaders in committing new crimes, a possible explanation for high rearrest rate for Blair inmates.

A major problem identified in the study was the recidivism rates for inmates in community corrections centers (38 halfway houses) including one in Johnstown.

Bucklen said that the department had been using the community corrections centers for early release of inmates.

As of Jan. 1, inmates are not being granted early release, and the corrections centers will be used to sanction and treat parole violators, rather than sending them back to a state correctional institution.

This is part of a new approach being taken by the Corbett administration reflected with last year’s passage of Act 196, which directs more money into parole and probation and law enforcement at the local level, and Act 122, which redefines who will be sent to a state correctional institution, Bucklen said.

While Blair County’s rearrest rate is above the state average, the reincarceration rate for parole violators, about 42 percent, is slightly below the statewide average.

Sherry Tate, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole, said recidivism rates for inmates on state parole or probation is at 42 percent, and she attributed this to “the way we supervise offenders.”

She said a Bureau of Offender Re-entry has been created, and agents have been trained in “motivational interviewing” in which they ask the inmate to define ways to improve his life, ways to and what will improve his life.

“We’ve done a lot to enhance our re-entry efforts,” Tate said.

Susan McNaughton, a corrections spokeswoman, said the numbers on recidivism “are not great” but the recidivism study, with all of its statistics, gives the department a baseline to measure how treatment programs are working.

Blair County as of Friday had 520 inmates in the state correctional system compared with Cambria, 305; Clearfield, 285; Centre, 246; Bedford, 173; and Huntingdon, 138.

Blair County Prison Warden Michael M. Johnston has been studying recidivism in the Blair County Prison. He said since 1991, 36,821 offenders have incarcerated there.

Of those, 7,314 never came back, while 6,833, 48 percent, were jailed again.

What his statistics don’t show, he said, was how many times those 6,833 inmates came back. Some might have returned to the prison eight or 10 times, he said.

Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.