PA Hopes Mentoring Can Help Ex-Juvenile Lifers Adjust

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Mentoring is an old-school solution to a historically vexing puzzle: how to manage prison reentry in Pennsylvania, where 60 percent of people are locked up again within three years of being released, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Early results are promising. The program, run by the Pennsylvania Prison Society through a contract with the state Department of Corrections (DOC), has worked with more than 200 people leaving two prisons since launching as a pilot in 2015. Only two have been arrested again, says coordinator Steve Gotzler. It is a small component of an $10.4 million state investment in reentry services. The state in 2013 began contracting with providers to address challenges like employment, housing assistance, drug and alcohol treatment and family reunification. Since last July, the department has committed just $80,774 for mentoring services.

Gotzler is working to take the mentoring program statewide. That way, it could support the scores of juvenile lifers who will be released under a Supreme Court decisions that automatic life-without-parole sentences for juveniles are unconstitutional. The court has required states like Pennsylvania, home to more juvenile lifers than any other, to apply the ruling retroactively. For the nearly 500 men and 10 women juvenile lifers who have been locked away for decades, it will be their first time living as adults in the world. “People are most likely to reoffend within the first three months post-release,” said Michael Thompson of the Council for State Governments Justice Center. “It’s a jolt to move from a hyper-controlled environment, especially if you’ve been there for a long time, to the chaos of everyday life.” A relationship with a trusted mentor can smooth that transition. He added, “Mentoring, when delivered in the right way, can open up a person to services or help them stay engaged. But mentoring in itself isn’t enough to change risky behaviors.”

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