Pittsburgh boasts a successful prisoner re-entry program that enjoys bi-partisan support, says the New York Times. One program sponsored by the Allegheny County Department of Human Services for ex-inmates with mental illness reportedly has reduced recidivism to only 9.9 percent. The State Senate Budget and Finance Committee has recommended that the program serve as a model in the state as a way to save money.
It began in a consent decree because of chronic overcrowding in the Allegheny County jail and the lack of treatment for inmates with mental illness. Its founder, Amy Kroll of the Allegheny County Department of Human Services, turned it into a comprehensive program for mentally ill offenders that now includes a mental health court, a drug court, and a re-entry component as well as the part that helps state prison inmates.
Kroll, a former prison guard and a police emergency psychiatric clinician, requires her staff of 26 to go to jails and prisons and get to know each inmate well before the inmate is released. Each time a person is released, Kroll or a staff member takes the released prisoner shopping and provides $200 to buy clothes and other necessities, like toothpaste. “The most important thing we do is lower our clients’ anxiety,” Kroll said. “Most people fail because of their anxiety at getting out, especially the mentally ill.”
Next it is off to the medical assistance office and later to the Social Security office, to apply for supplementary Social Security benefits because of their illness. Then they go to prearranged housing and are given bus passes. The average cost is $3,000 a person. The money comes from the county, the state and several foundations.