For the last five years, the Adams County Prison has not tracked the rate at which people return to prison.
A request through Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know law revealed the county does not have records for recidivism rates at the Adams County Prison.
The Adams County Prison, which only brings $953,000 in revenues to the county coffers while racking up $12.4 million in expenses, is one of the most expensive items in the 2019 budget.
The reason for the lack of recidivism records is due to the county and courts not having “an agreed upon definition of recidivism,” Adams County Solicitor Molly Mudd said Tuesday.
Recidivism “refers to a person’s relapse into criminal behavior, often after the person receives sanctions or undergoes intervention for a previous crime,” the National Institute of Justice explained on its website.
At the state level, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) defines recidivism as “the first instance of either re-arrest or return to DOC custody within six months, one year, and three years of release from DOC custody,” according to an email from Susan McNaughton, the DOC communications director.
How county officials are measuring what is bringing people back to prison remains unclear.
It comes down to “anecdotal approaches” through sharing at the Adams County Prison Board meetings what kind of incarcerations the prison is seeing from bench warrants and new charges to probation and parole violations, according to Adams County Prison Warden Katy Hileman.
Hileman claimed measuring will “come into play” once the prison’s new medically assisted treatment program is implemented and that segment of the population is analyzed.
Mudd referred a question on why recidivism is not being tracked here to the Adams County Prison Board and the panel of Adams County judges.
“It must first be defined for the tracking to begin,” Mudd said.
Recidivism “is defined in different ways,” which makes it “difficult to evaluate,” Commissioner Vice Chairman Jim Martin said Tuesday. Martin is the chair of the prison board.
When asked why the prison stopped tracking the re-offender rates, Martin said, “I can’t give you a good answer for it.”
Martin said he believes there is no “uniforme standard nationwide” for tracking recidivism.
“The most general thing you could do is compare the number of inmates from one year to the next and if the numbers go down, and then you can say there is a decrease in recidivism,” Martin said. “Then you could say you are making progress on some front.”
Adams County Commissioner Marty Qually said he does not think the county does “a good job tracking it.”
“Honestly, I know the new warden is committed to using data and finding some metrics we can use to reduce people from returning to the prison. I know that is a priority of hers, using evidence-based programs to help people not re-offend,” Qually said.
The prison has been combating recidivism through its program offerings, including family groups, mental health treatment, and educational opportunities, officials said.
With Children from Incarcerated Parents, “…we are trying to create a stronger and more permanent bond with parents and their children,” Hileman said. “Hope is a big motivator.”
Due to the high rate of opioid use, the prison’s focus is on implementing the Transition to Recovery Jail Vivitrol Program, which received preliminary approval for grant funding, Hileman said.
The medically assisted treatment, known as Vivitrol, “is a non-addictive, once-monthly treatment” used “to prevent relapse in opioid dependent patients,” according to naltrexone drug’s website. “Vivitrol blocks opioid receptors in the brain while you work with the psychological aspects of counseling,” the website indicates.
Hileman is “more interested in saving a life” than evaluating recidivism, she said.
“It’s nice to talk about it,” she said, noting “the bigger value” involves giving inmates “the community resources they need during recovery.”
Hileman said it is “frustrating” and “upsetting” to open the newspaper and see former inmates in the obituary section, dying from overdoses.
“I’d rather quantify a reduction in that number,” Hileman said.
The definition of recidivism could differ in the Vivitrol program as well, according to Hileman.
An inmate who is participating in the Vivitrol program could go six months before relapsing, re-offending, and landing in jail, Hileman said. Then, a second time that same individual could make it nine months, which would be considered a “progression.”
“We have to be realistic. It may not cure recidivism the first time,” she said.
“What makes it successful is keeping them alive and every little bit of more time we can achieve between recovery and relapse,” she added.
A re-entry coalition is “a vital piece” to investigate what recidivism is and track its effectiveness, Hileman said.
Franklin Together Reentry Coalition, based in Franklin County, offered a presentation in April in Gettysburg to community members and public officials.
The coalition’s purpose is to educate others on the impacts of the criminal justice system and motivate people to become involved in their communities, officials said.
The organization recorded recidivism rates of 55 to 65 percent for probation violations and 50 to 55 percent for new charges in Franklin County Jail.
Recidivism can have different definitions, depending on the statistics used, according to Dr. Kim Eaton, Franklin Together co-chair. Eaton wrote in an email Tuesday that “the time element,” and the “reason for incarceration” are key items to consider when reviewing re-offending rates.
“Sometimes recidivism is defined as a person returning to jail for any reason whether it is for a violation or a new charge. That is really the simplest way to define it. However, since that definition is all inclusive those rates are higher than if recidivism is defined as only new charges,” Eaton wrote. “Often the way recidivism is defined depends on the ability to collect the data correctly. Not all systems are set up to report the details of why a person has returned to jail.”
Dauphin County, too, is “working towards developing a definition for recidivism for use across the county,” Dauphin County Warden Brian Clark wrote in an email Tuesday.
In 2017, Clark left his warden post at Adams County Prison for his current position.
“Most recidivism definitions define a length of time, some would say that a standard may be that if an inmate has returned within two years of his or her last release, that would count toward the recidivism percentage,” Clark wrote.
Once a clear definition is determined for re-offending rates, “it will eventually tell us if the programming and education we are doing is effective or not,” Clark wrote. “It will essentially help us determine the effectiveness of our treatment of our population.”