Two months ago the Adams County Prison Society was contacted by Urban Rural Action about participating in criminal justice reform discussions with other stakeholders in Adams County, along with a similar group from Philadelphia. Despite our busy schedules, my husband and I as well as fellow prison society members decided to be a part of this conversation. Why? Because the high rates of both incarceration and re-incarceration in Adams County create a financial burden for our county, and many problems for inmates. A high percentage of those incarcerated in facilities like the Adams County Adult Correctional Complex were trauma victims themselves before committing their offenses. They are fortunate to be incarcerated in one of the least dangerous and best-run facilities in Pennsylvania. Yet the nature of incarceration is such that they often return to our community with additional trauma after serving their sentences. And the majority then re-offend and return to jail, sometimes more than once. While inside ACACC they use a high percentage of our county budget. Fiscal management concerns and care for the well-being of all citizens lead our county officials and other groups to examine how to spend this money more effectively. When ex-offenders return to society with a better chance of contributing productively rather than re-offending, everyone benefits.
So why brainstorm about criminal justice issues with counterparts from Philadelphia? We need urban/rural collaboration to address challenges like mass incarceration that affect families and communities across the country. In rural counties corrections facilities and inmates have both similar and different experiences and problems from those of urban correctional facilities and inmates. Both regions have things to share and to learn from each other. The eight-month “Consensus-Building for Incarceration Reform” (CBIR) program is funded by the Vera Institute of Justice. Pennsylvania’s Prison Society is a natural partner in the program. Since 1787 the prison society has worked to ensure humane conditions in prisons and jails, and to advocate for sensible criminal justice policies. Former Gettysburg Seminary president Herman G. Stuempfle founded the Adams County branch of the prison society, which benefited from the leadership of Rev. Joyce Shutt for many years. Prison society visitors continue to connect inmates to needed services. For example, we select and deliver civilian work clothes, donated by the Adams Rescue Mission, to those in the work release program at ACACC. Our transportation team drives ex-offenders home after they have completed their time, trips that can take hours, and also transports inmates to get replacement social security cards and drivers’ licenses. Recently we hosted representatives of “Franklin County Together” as they shared with us and other Adams County stakeholders information about the re-entry program for ex-offenders in Franklin County.
CBIR program activities in Gettysburg and Philadelphia beginning in September will bring together criminal justice reform advocates, community leaders, and county jail officials from Adams County and Philadelphia to learn about and advocate for needed reforms. Participants will address issues in their own counties with the tool of useful information, and with the goal of implementing strategies that reflect best practices. We will be sharing and learning information about the nature of our local issues and about solutions that have a track record of working to reduce recidivism and save taxpayer money. The Adams County Prison Society looks forward to working with CBIR this fall.