Monday, April 6, 2009

Fireworks on County Council over Rehab Center

Below I've posted an interesting article by Michael Duck regarding the proposed rehab center in Bethlehem, that is related to our neighborhood in two ways:

1) County Executive Stoffa has been pushing for the rehab center for a long time, as a means of not only rehabilitating inmates released from the jail in our neighborhood, but also as a means of alleviating over-crowding at the jail, which is the main reason cited for needing to expand the jail in our neighborhood.

2)It's a good opportunity to compare platforms of Stoffa, who is running for re-election, and County Councilwoman Ann McHale who is challenging him. We have been more focused on the City Council race for WW rep on Council (Dennis Lieb vs. Mike Fleck), but the County race is also important to be paying attention to.

By the way, if you're ever bored one night, and reality T.V. isn't giving you enough drama, take a walk up to our County Courthouse and sit in on a County Council meeting. I've only been to a couple, but the behavior on display was entertaining at best and shocking at worst, and the many news articles covering County meetings vouch for the fireworks as well. I have to say add though, that I've never seen Stoffa take part in that unprofessional nonsense. There has been some pretty passionate infighting on the County Council this year though, and as responsible voters we need to get to the bottom of it, and decide who we want representing us at the County level, as well as the City level.


Michael Duck said...

Thanks for the link! Speaking of the fireworks at County Council, I'm starting a regular feature on the blog to document the mudslinging. Here's the most recent installment:

hopeunseen said...

What's all the fuss about a work release facility in Bethlehem Township?

‘The degree of civilization can be judged by entering its prisons.” – Dostoevsky

Several times a year during the winter I invite a shivering man, standing outside of Northampton County Prison pensively waiting for his ride, into my house to warm up and have something hot to drink. Armed with a plastic leaf bag filled with what little possessions he owns, $10 in his pocket and ride back ‘home,’ I see him off into our community with thousands of dollars in fees and costs to pay back to the county, a prison record, often a tail (probation), little to no education or work experience while frequently struggling with substance abuse and then expect him to ‘keep his nose clean’ and stay out of trouble.

The corrections system in Northampton County, let alone for the country, is broken. More than two thirds of inmates incarcerated in NHC will recidivate—often within the first year. It costs NHC taxpayers nearly $25 million a year, approximately $28,000 per inmate, to warehouse prisoners. Compounded with the cost of sentencing, adjudication and parole it skyrockets to $65 million annually (2007 statistics). For every dollar we pay in county taxes, 25% is absorbed by the corrections system. In addition, prison populations statewide have inflated by 24% since 1995 and are predicted to grow. Inmates released out of NHC prison are set up for failure for they are products of a failed system.

Residents turn over millions dollars a year to a system that fails 70% percent of the time. More so, in the words of NHC Executive John Stoffa, “We treat our pets better than we [Northampton County Corrections] treat our prison population.” Despite a dismal system wrought with inhumane conditions at a staggering cost, the majority of taxpayers, council members, the faith community and legislators continue to passively and actively support what amounts to nothing less than a fiscal and social system of injustice.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that Corrections Departments that have adopted evidenced-based reentry practices designed to reduce recidivism, prison expansion and significantly reduce costs passed onto taxpayers, are enjoying rich success. For example, according to the Washington State Institute for Public Policy, Intensive Supervision Treatment for low-risk offenders drops recidivism by nearly 22%. Philadelphia, Allegheny, Chester and Pike counties can all attest to the benefits of adopting alternative, restorative practices to traditional incarceration.

So what’s all the fuss about NHC DOC seeking to put a work release/treatment facility in Bethlehem Twp.? After all, doesn’t it make perfect sense if the center, created for low-risk offenders, will not only improve humane conditions, it will drop recidivism and save taxpayers millions of dollars?

The ‘fuss’ is not rooted in the pragmatism of dollars and cents, rather it is the product of an American worldview historically driven by punitive solutions to crime rather than a redemptive process designed to successfully reenter convicts back into society. Think about this, the United States has the largest prison population in the world. It is estimated that 60% of the prison population suffers from mental illness and 25 to 50% from drug abuse or addiction. Despite a prison population growth that exceeds prison expansion by nearly 100%, crime rates have remained flat since 2001—prison growth is not relative to increases in crime, it is relative to a revolving door of repeat offenders, the majority of who are defined as low-risk, mentally ill or addicts. Incarceration does not treat the mentally-ill or addicts.

The strong reaction of Bethlehem Twp. residents and her council speaks to a cultural distortion of fear and pathology of protectionism and convenience-based solutions. Such a facility is socially counter-intuitive. It is simply safer and more convenient to warehouse criminals rather than rehabilitate them, even though the cost of rehabilitation is significantly less along with the obvious benefits community reaps when an ex-convict transforms into a productive, tax-paying, pro-social, healthy individual.

Another contributing factor in this whirlpool of failure is the posture of NHC mayors, council members and law enforcement. Mayors campaign on ‘tough on crime’ planks to satisfy constituents. The lack of redemptive practices on the local level serves only to fuel the already overcrowded and under-resourced prison system in NHC. As an example, Mayor Panto boasts, ‘Crime is down and arrests are up,’ while Mr. Stoffa decries, ‘our prisons are overcrowded and we will soon face another expansion.’ Most communities in NHC fund only a fraction of prevention and intervention programs and strategies in comparison to swelling police budgets. Nowhere is this more the case than in Easton. As an example, despite empirical evidence that 12.7% (HopeUnseen/PCCD) of Easton’s youth are involved in gangs and related activity, the city provides no allocation for gang reduction. Yet Easton has significantly increased its law-enforcement allocations by hundreds of thousands of dollars. Easton, as with most of NHC communities, will strive to increase arrests burdening an already over-burdened corrections system. Nothing is ‘correct’ about this scenario.

Is there a solution? Are work release/treatment facilities the answer? Yes and no. I have ministered to a number of convicts. It is anything less than convenient. It is risky, time-consuming, requires multiple resources and will only work in the context of a vulnerable relationship. I have been used, robbed and physically, emotionally and spiritually drained. But I have also seen lives go through miraculous transformations out of addiction, crime and hopelessness. I have witnessed restored families, forgiveness and restoration and reconcilation between convict and victim.

Ultimately such facilities are simply another form of prison expansion—perhaps the only legitimate argument not to support them. Systemically, change will not come about from the top down or within the system. It must come from the bottom up, it must be organic. It needs to begin with a handful of dedicated people willing to put the time and resources and most importantly, take the risk, to provoke the necessary change. It will take residents in a community to work together to insist that our law makers and community and county legislators and mayors adopt restorative practices rather than largely punitive measures. The best way to do that is with our voice and at the voter’s booth.

While work release and treatment facilities for low-risk inmates are a step in the right direction, it nevertheless boils down to the heart and soul of each resident willing to defy social expectations and shift the cultural norm of his or her community. It truly requires a radical shift in thinking. It certainly is not happening in Bethlehem Twp. but it could happen in Easton. While the redsidents of the former cry "NIMBY!" the latter could take the bold and unprescedented voice of "IMBY!"

I would prefer to see the existing system pour significant funds into best practice restorative solutions rather than continue to fund prison expansions. To that end, at the current rate of incarceration, in five years, NHC Prison will need 2,000 beds, doubling the current budget and at an estimated cost in the tens of millions. In 2006 at a cost of $23 million dollars, the county added a new wing increasing the prison capacity to 819 beds—all filled within one year. Dozens of inmates sleep on the floor.

I leave you with this thought by activist James Bell –

“We live in a country that is addicted to incarceration as a tool for social control. As it stands now justice systems are extremely expensive, do not rehabilitate but in fact make the people that experience them worse and have no evidence based correlatives to reducing crime. Yet with that track record they continue to thrive, prosper and are seen as an appropriate response to children in trouble with the law. Only an addict would see that as an okay result.”

Terrence Miller, President

Anonymous said...

hope I am your neighbor so I must be anon. Your point about "crime is down and arrests are up" THANK GOD!! Your verbage about all of you do-gooder is fine but it doesn't address the problem in the short term and frankly I live in the short term. My neighborhood, and yours, is better than it was just two years ago. While your comments about prison reform may be on target, don't downgrade the work our EPD is doing for us NOW. Your solutions are trying to correct multiple generations of prison problems. The police are the hear and now. It's up to the county to do their part.

You also are against the age restriction in parks that were well-known gang infested meeting places. My neighborhood was a lot safer last summer than any I can remember. And I don't live near the actual parks that were affected. Nothing moved my way.

Please stop downgrading the efforst of our law enforcement personnel. You don't have all of the answers. Or are you just looking to create a job for yourself.

Kepp up the good work officers in blue.

noel jones said...

it is interesting how everyone who has commented on this blog, with the exception of Anonymous, has managed to be civil and engage in earnest debate without insulting people. and it is the person doing the insulting, and claiming that he can't divulge his identity for fear of retaliation, that posts nothing but pro-city propaganda. like i said. interesting.

Jaz said...

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