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DHS News Newsletter March 2008 

Allegheny County Jail Collaborative - Making a Decade of Difference

March 2008

The Allegheny County Jail Collaborative has been positively impacting the lives of persons involved with the criminal justice system in Allegheny County for nearly a  decade. And it has often been doing it through unconventional means.

In 1999, discussions between the founders of the Collaborative: the Allegheny County Jail, Allegheny County Department of Human Services, and Allegheny County Health Department outlined the goals of the Allegheny County Jail Collaborative: to improve public safety, to reduce recidivism and to increase success for inmates following incarceration.

From meager beginnings

Actions soon followed. The Allegheny County Jail Warden opened the Jail doors to providers of services to deliver services directly to inmates. Acknowledging the value and importance of supporting such an effort, DHS Director Marc Cherna provided some funding for the services.  Knowing that the vast majority of Jail inmates had issues around physical and/or mental health as well as problems related to addictive disease, Allegheny County Health Director Dr. Bruce Dixon brought the Allegheny County Health Department into the mix.

The pooling of resources and the coordination of leadership that exists because of the Jail Collaborative continues to serve the community well, both inside and outside the Jail.

Collaboration leads to results

Many providers and programs that support the transition from incarceration to the community have been brought into the collaborative process. Inmates are assessed early to determine which of these providers and programs are needed to give the individual the best chance of successfully reintegrating into the community.

Whether it be case management, drug and alcohol treatment; physical and mental health services; vocational, employment and training support; parenting classes; educational supplementation, anger management or other services; providers and the inmates are partners in developing an individualized service plan that will be followed while the individuals are in the Jail and after they are released.

A variety of supports meet a variety of needs

DHS continues to allocate significant resources to reduce recidivism by providing services inside and outside the Allegheny County Jail. This funding is largely spent on case management, mental health and drug and alcohol treatment, and employment and training services. Some examples are:

Three-quarter Way House which provides safe and supportive housing for 20 men to begin a sober and lawful existence;

Goodwill of Southwestern Pennsylvania (for men) and POWER (for women) Reintegration Programs, which work with offenders on key issues such as employment, substance abuse, education and family reunification both before they are released and once they return to their communities; and

More than 100 inmates per year since 2002 have obtained their GED diplomas while incarcerated in the Allegheny County Jail through the cooperative efforts of the Allegheny County Jail and the Allegheny Intermediate Unit.

Collaboration makes sense

One of the primary reasons that the Jail Collaborative was formed was the realization that its partners commonly serve the many of the same people. For example:

Sixty-four percent of women and 43 percent of men booked in the Allegheny County Jail (2003-2005) accessed services through DHS.

Of 18- to 25-year-olds in the Allegheny County Jail:

  • 40 percent have a history with child welfare system
  • 46 percent have accessed mental health services through DHS and
  • 25 percent have accessed drug and alcohol services through DHS

Data proves a powerful tool of instruction

The integration of criminal justice (jail, state parole, prison, and juvenile probation) data and human services data was prompted by the Jail Collaborative.

The combined data has allowed for funded research projects to analyze such complex issues as offender reentry and the human services experiences of children of incarcerated parents. The findings of the projects have garnered national interest.

Human Services Integration Fund (HSIF) funds a University of Pittsburgh research study
In December 2002, HSIF agreed to provide funding for researchers from the University of Pittsburgh, School of Social Work, Center on Race and Social Problems to design and conduct a study to evaluate the Jail Collaborative and its impact on the reintegration of former offenders into the community.
The project considered three major evaluative components: how services are provided through the collaborative practice; intermediary achievement among former inmates; and ultimate outcomes among former inmates–post-release criminal behavior and recidivism.

The results of the research conducted by Professor Hide Yamatani, Associate Dean of Research in the University of Pittsburgh, School of Social Work, were announced at a press conference held at the Allegheny County Jail on February 12, 2008.

The Jail Collaborative Evaluation builds on significant    literature that finds that giving offenders what they need to succeed in their communities reduces returns to jail. The study finds the Jail Collaborative is effective in reducing crime and saving money. Specifically, the study authors   report: 

A 50 percent reduction in recidivism among inmates participating in Jail Collaborative programs;

Six dollars were saved for every dollar invested in Jail Collaborative programs, with the greatest cost-savings in the areas of increased public safety and reduced  victimization among county residents; and

High enrollment in, and satisfaction with, various in-jail and community-based services.

The future looks positive

Attendees at the February press conference included Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato, DHS   Director Marc Cherna, Allegheny County Health Director Dr. Bruce Dixon, Allegheny County Jail Warden Ramon C. Rustin, Administrative Judge Criminal Division Donna Jo    McDaniel and Allegheny County Police Superintendent Charles Moffatt.

County Executive Onorato voiced the general consensus of the day.

“Allegheny County is grateful to the University of Pittsburgh for undertaking this important study and to the Human Services Integration Fund for underwriting it,” said Onorato, “The findings of this study validate the efforts of the Allegheny County Jail Collaborative to save tax dollars and successfully reintegrate former inmates back into our community, thereby increasing public safety.” 

For more information about the Jail Collaborative, please visit the DHS web site at: www.alleghenycounty.us/dhs/jail.aspx.

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