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​Fighting the Opioid Epidemic

Approximately 12,000 to 15,000 reentrants transition through the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) Community Corrections Centers/Facilities every year. They experience the same challenges with drug use that communities large and small across Pennsylvania ~ and the nation ~ are fighting with every day.

It is no secret that Pennsylvania has one of the highest overdose rates in the country. The DOC takes the safety and welfare of those in its charge and the community with the utmost importance and as such, is very concerned about any overdoses throughout the entire system. We are actively working on solutions to battle the opioid epidemic, such as expanding the use of Medication Assisted Treatment, utilizing a body scanner to deter the introduction of drugs, the use of K-9 drug detection teams and increased searches. Community Corrections has also introduced Narcan into all state operated and contracted sites.

Sweeping Overhaul Made at Wernersville Community Correctional Center

In January 2018, the Department of Corrections (DOC) announced changes that were implemented at the Wernersville Community Correctional Center in Berks County to improve security, public safety, operational efficiency and reentrant support.

DOC installed a full body scanner to detect contraband, increased the use of drug-detecting K-9s and reduced the number of residential buildings. The changes are designed to limit the introduction of contraband into the facility, reduce drug use and better manage the reentrant population.

The body scanner, similar to the device used in airports, reveals any manner of contraband that may be on a person.

Other changes include the reduction of the maximum capacity at the facility from about 400 to 230 beds, and the closure of one residential unit. This has reduced the area needed to be searched by K-9 units by 50,000 square feet.

Reentry programming and job training efforts will be expanded to include additional job and housing readiness workshops. The in-house training will reduce the need for contracting with outside agencies to provide the same classes. 

In addition, Wernersville will be able to offer some workshops that are currently unavailable in Berks County, including cognitive behavioral intervention, family reunification, alcohol and drug support and education and peer support services.

Under the new entry process, Building 30 is designated the “reception” point for all new arrivals who meet first with an assessment counselors. They then receive a standard orientation, including a meeting and evaluation with a counselor and assistance with social service needs, such as obtaining necessary identification and Medical Assistance. The reentrants are then provided a detailed action plan to follow.

The assessment counselors evaluate the reentrant’s parole conditions and history and make appropriate referrals to reentry services and/or on-site workshops or groups before the reentrant transitions to a group home.

During the reception phase, all reentrants with substance use disorder participate in an educational workshop on the benefits of medication-assisted treatment (MAT).

Other changes to the facility include:
• Increased drug training for staff
• Increased transportation for reentrants to work sites and medical appointments
• Providing all meals on site reducing need for outside travel
• Additional security cameras

The third former residential building will be used for staff and reentrant training workshops.

Wernersville CCC, which occupies buildings on the former Wernersville State Hospital property helps approximately 1,000 individuals return to the community each year. The majority of residents at the center are from Berks or the surrounding counties. Last year residents of the facility provided more than 20,000 hours of community service to local governments, non-profit groups and churches.