On April 29, DOC Secretary John Wetzel participated in an opening discussion at the Community Corrections Association of Pennsylvania (CCAPA) conference held in State College, where he talked to 180 attendees about current issues, trends and projects in the field of community corrections. Joining Wetzel in the discussion were DOC Deputy Secretary for Reentry Kelly Evans, Deputy Secretary for Field Services Christian Stephens and Director of the Bureau of Community Corrections Daniel McIntyre.
"When people think about the Department of Corrections, most imagine our prisons and don't realize that our work doesn't end when an inmate released," Secretary Wetzel said. "Our work continues in the communities where our employees supervise parolees and individuals released to our community corrections centers. The work outside of our facilities is just as important as the work being conducted inside our state prisons."
Secretary Wetzel spoke about community supervision of reentrants and how his agency continues to streamline operations and provide employees with training and equipment necessary to perform their jobs.
"While the DOC has had a memorandum of understanding with the PA Board of Probation and Parole, to be able to fully function as a cohesive agency, we need to support legislation that would formally merge the DOC and parole supervision duties into one cabinet level agency," Wetzel said. "I am hopeful that we will see an actual merger become reality before the end of this calendar year."
Because approximately 19,000 individuals are release from prison each year, Wetzel also talked about the important role community corrections employees play in reentry by providing supervision and guidance to individuals about continuing treatment and obtaining housing, along with other issues returning individuals face.
Proud to report that the employment rate for parolees has reached an all-time high of 65 percent, Wetzel spoke about improving that statistic even further and mentioned workforce initiatives and the introduction, in 2018, of Gov. Tom Wolf's PAsmart Workforce Development initiative. The initiative is aimed at connecting Pennsylvanians – including former inmates – with resources for
working and training in Pennsylvania. PAsmart will realign the state's workforce development programs to connect the workforce with employers who need skilled employees.
During the DOC's appropriations hearings, Wetzel also discussed the fact that the percent of parolees who were arrested in a month dropped by 14 percent from 2017 to 2018, which translates to approximately 79 fewer parolees being arrested by policy for a new crime in 2018. In addition, Pennsylvania crime rates continued to decline. In 2017, the crime rate dropped by 4.7 percent in Pennsylvania, which was 1.4 percentage points more than the nationwide crime drop in 2017.
"Obviously our employees are doing something right to be able to see these terrific and promising results," Wetzel said. "I look forward to speaking at these conferences, because I believe it is important to acknowledge our nearly 1,800 employees for their public safety and reentry efforts. These men and women should know that we appreciate them and that what they do matters and is having a positive impact on public safety."
CCAPA is a non-profit organization that was formed to advance community corrections professionals through training, networking and discussion of current issues that impact the profession at the county, state and private facility levels.