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Community corrections center Renewal steers ex-convicts to homes, jobs

| Thursday, Nov. 22, 2012, 11:38 p.m.
Teresa Minor helps Michael Prince of the West End during a GED class at the Salvation Army's facility in Fairywood on Monday, November 19, 2012. Prince, who should have graduated in 2006, is studying for the GED test in January. Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review

The instructor patiently helped her student.

They worked on a grammar problem in a workbook, fixing verb tenses on Monday in a Salvation Army office in Fairywood in the West End.

Michael Prince, 25, of the West End was the GED student. Teresa Minor, 47, a former federal convict, was the instructor.

She spent 18 years incarcerated for charges that included selling cocaine to undercover police.

Besides volunteering as an instructor, Minor is a project manager at a nonprofit. She attributes much of the turnaround in her life to Renewal Inc.

The community corrections center provides residential work release, mental health, job training and drug and alcohol abuse treatment programs to people after incarceration.

“They gave me a different way to look at life,” said Minor of Sheraden, who spent nine months at Renewal after she was paroled in 2007.

Since Gov. Tom Corbett's approval of criminal justice system reforms recently, the state will need more centers such as Downtown-based Renewal, which started in 1976, said Stephen Devlin, Renewal vice president.

The nonprofit is almost at capacity in its residential programs, but it expects its clients in outpatient treatment to increase, Devlin said.

“It's more cost-effective to put them in the program and to put them into work than to keep in them in jail beyond their minimum sentences if they are deemed eligible for release,” said Devlin.

He said 85 percent of Renewal's clients complete the program, find homes and get jobs.

Renewal has 600 beds between work release and specialized programs. Between July 2011 and June, 1,351 people participated in its work release program, staying an average of three months.

Headquartered Downtown on Grant Street with residential programs at Second Avenue and Boulevard of the Allies, Renewal is growing.

It bought a building at 700 Fifth Ave. that it leased for nonresidential programs and added a temporary employment agency for parolees, GetPaid Inc., this year.

Renewal's expansion occurred before the state Legislature passed the Criminal Justice Reform Act this year.

The law expands eligibility for nonviolent drug offenders who need treatment to enter community corrections centers, and sends nonviolent parole violators to the centers rather than prisons.

It also bans people convicted of some misdemeanors from being sent to state prison and eliminates early parole.

The law's goal is to reduce corrections spending and invest savings in rehabilitation services, according to the state Department of Corrections.

Taxpayers cough up more than $90 a day to incarcerate someone, but about $70 a day to keep him in a community corrections center, where stays are much shorter, said Susan McNaughton, spokeswoman for the corrections department.

Reforms are expected to save $253 million by fiscal year 2017, according to a 2012 report from the Council of State Governments Justice Center.

Between 2000 and 2010, Pennsylvania's rates for violent crime decreased 13 percent to 366 per 100,000 residents, and the rate for property crimes fell 15 percent to 2,199 per 100,000, according to the center.

At the same time, state spending on corrections rose 76 percent to $1.9 billion. In January, the state's prison population, at 51,312, was 13 percent higher than its operational capacity, according to the Justice Center.

Renewal, whose 2012 operating budget is $17 million, gets clients through contracts with the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Allegheny County Department of Human Services and other agencies.

There are 41 community corrections centers in Pennsylvania accredited by the American Correctional Association, a spokesman for the Alexandria, Va.-based association said.

Whether funding will be allotted for more has not been decided, but bed capacity has increased, Department of Corrections spokeswoman Susan Bensinger said.

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or tparrish@tribweb.com.

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