Activists speak out against for-profit prison services provider

Written by Rachel McDevitt | Jun 4, 2018 3:46 PM

Several dozen people attended a town hall meeting on prison and reentry reform at Tellus360 in Lancaster on Sunday, June 3rd, 2018. (Photo: Rachel McDevitt/WITF)

(Lancaster) -- Activists are voicing concerns over a for-profit company possibly taking control of prison re-entry services in one midstate county.

Several dozen people showed up for a meeting at Tellus 360 in Lancaster Sunday night, where they heard from advocates for prison reform and former prisoners who have re-entered society.

Kevin Ressler, co-founder of the Lancaster Action Now Coalition, said he wants the Lancaster County commissioners to go back to the drawing board on their bidding process for service providers.

"How do we make sure that we're actually getting services that best represent the needs for the community and also that will ensure the highest level of quality of services provided to our incarcerated individuals and the families that surround those individuals, who are also experiencing trauma," Ressler said. 

The board of commissioners changed the process for awarding prison services contracts last year, to a request for proposals (RFP) system. After an initial round of bids was tossed out, three non-profits that were providing support to inmates, re-entrants, and their families decided not to bid on the new RFP. Recommendations for the latest round will be released by an independent commission on June 19th. 


Danny Rivera, of Lancaster, shares his story of incarceration and reentry at a town hall meeting on Sunday, June 3rd, 2018. (Photo: Rachel McDevitt/WITF)

Since the nonprofits aren't bidding, that appears to leave the door open for the for-profit Geo Group to gain the contracts. The company operates private prisons across the country, which some activists claims represents a conflict of interest.

In a statement provided by Geo Group's vice president of Geo Care strategic marketing Monica Hook, Geo said it has served as a trusted partner to the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections since 2014 by operating the Lancaster County Reentry Services Center and "positively impacting the lives of hundreds of Lancaster residents."

Danny Rivera was released from prison in 2013, after serving three years on a charge he said was related to his drug addiction.

He told the town hall how community nonprofits helped him get a job and restart his life. Rivera said he doubts he would have gotten the same level of support from a for-profit company.

"And that's my biggest concern, that they do not care whether we stay out. They don't care about giving us the right tools, because to them, if we come back they're just making more money off of us," Rivera said. 

Advocates are hoping to mobilize the community to speak out against Geo Group at upcoming Lancaster County Commission meetings on June 12th and 19th. 

Geo Group's full statement is as follows:

"Since 2014, GEO has served as a trusted partner to the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections and the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole, successfully operating the Lancaster County Reentry Services Center (RSC) and positively impacting the lives of hundreds of Lancaster residents. GEO provides reentrants with reentry support services, including cognitive behavioral treatment, substance abuse education, and workforce training that helps them re-establish themselves as productive community members. Successfully providing reentry services is a collaborative endeavor that includes partners from the public and private sectors.

GEO's mission and vision are rooted in service and care. Our motivation is to deliver superior care and positive results for those individuals entrusted to us. We provide these high quality, cost-effective services in a manner that is consistent with our mission and values. We are proud to be part of the Lancaster community, and look forward to continuing to provide high-quality, evidence-based programming that benefits reentrants and taxpayers alike."


This story has been updated to include the response from Geo Group. 

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