Change in prison services funding concerns advocates

Written by Rachel McDevitt | May 11, 2018 4:37 PM

(Harrisburg) -- Three nonprofits providing services to inmates and re-entrants in Lancaster County plan to end their programs next month.

Prison reform advocates are worried a for-profit provider will fill the gap.

The nonprofits are bowing out because of a change in the way the county awards contracts for prison services.

Last year, the board of commissioners voted to create a request-for-proposals (RFP) system.

Commissioner Josh Parsons said the previous method was more ad-hoc; nonprofits would pitch ideas in order to receive funding.

"But I think the average citizen, the average taxpayer wants a process when the county government's making a decision about funding groups and outlaying large amounts of money," Parsons said. 

Parsons added the new process is more transparent and efficient.

But critics say the RFP was written in a way that excludes the current providers.

The group Have a Heart for Persons in the Criminal Justice System claims a for-profit company bidding to provide services won't have the best interest of the community at heart, and that could have a negative impact on recidivism rates and public safety. 

"Their motivation is basically to their stockholders, who want to see a return on their investment," said group president Jean Bickmire. 

Commissioners note no contract has been awarded yet.

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