By Tracy Smith, Chief for the Division of Treatment Services
As significant shifts have occurred in the way the PA Department of Corrections operates due to COVID-19, several important issues needed to be addressed.
For treatment services, the driving question soon became: How do we enable incarcerated individuals to participate in the programming that will prepare them for the earliest possible release while minimizing health-related risks to staff and inmates and preserving public safety? According to Tracy Smith, Chief of Treatment Services for the PA DOC, the answer was: "Continue to offer, in the safest, most consistent and efficient way possible, the programs that are shown to effectively reduce one's likelihood of committing future crime and returning to prison."
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the in-prison treatment operation in the PA Department of Corrections has mirrored, as closely as possible, the treatment operation that existed pre-COVID in terms of admissions, one's priority status, program curricula, and requirements for successful completion. The difference? Programs have been offered in either very small, traceable cohorts or participants are required to complete the required lessons in their cells, which has caused the need for SCI-based treatment staff, and the administrators of those programs, to be very flexible in the program delivery.
The results we have seen thus far indicate that treatment program facilitators in the SCIs are maintaining fidelity to the standardized treatment program curricula. In addition, program waiting lists are continuing to be managed in an effective way, despite the unique circumstances. In fact, it appears that efficiency in program delivery has improved, as seen in a comparison of numbers that reflected parole releases pending due to outstanding program recommendations. It was recently found that between Dec. 2019 and Dec. 2020, the number of individuals who were parole releases pending due to individuals still needing to complete recommended treatment programs went from 236 to 76. That was a decrease of approximately 300% of cases that were not able to be released due to program completion issues. Based upon this analysis, as well as other information provided in this article, one can infer that individuals are being prepared both effectively and efficiently for their earliest possible release from prison, thereby preserving public safety and reducing the likelihood of future recidivism. Population reduction efforts by DOC/Parole Board leadership as well as the administration, have also had a positive impact on reducing these numbers with a reduction of 6,500 less inmates over the past year.