Halfway house plan withdrawn

KABLETOWN – A Pennsylvania-based firm that runs federal halfway houses on a for-profit basis said they are withdrawing their applications to build a facility on Kabletown Road that could have housed up to 75 inmates after their release from federal prisons.

Nonetheless, a Request For Proposals, or RFP, issued by the Bureau of Prisons in June – which calls for the construction of such a “Residential Re-entry Center” in one of 25 counties in the northern half of the state – remains active, leaving open the possibility that another contractor could propose a similar facility in the region.
Bureau of Prisons officials had not responded to requests for an interview as of press time.
Officials with MinSec, the Pennsylvania contractor, say their company has entirely withdrawn from the RFP, meaning that an alternative site in Berkeley County is also off the table.
MinSec officials announced their intention to withdraw from the RFP in an interview Friday, only one day after residents expressed opposition to the proposal and the County Commission voted to send a letter outlining its opposition to the plan to MinSec, the Bureau of Prisons and West Virginia’s legislators.
Eleven residents, many of whom live in the Kabletown area, made their feelings known at Thursday’s commission meeting.
Jane Rissler, who lives on Kabletown Road, about three miles from the proposed site, said she was opposed to siting the facility in a rural area.
“It is miles from public transportation, community services and job opportunities,” said Rissler, who also cited media reports that seven inmates had escaped from a MinSec facility in Hazelton, Pa., in a single year. “I am also concerned about MinSec’s record on security and safety for nearby residents,” she said.
Brian Bellman, who is not a Kabletown resident, said he thought fear of residents in these facilities was not always justified.
“A lot of these people are motivated to get back into society,” Bellman said, though he added that the minority who cause problems are a proper subject of concern.
Bellman worried such public nervousness could translate into an “incident,” noting that many area residents are “well armed.”
Attorney David Hammer argued that allowing a rural home on Kabletown Road would be a violation of both zoning laws and deed restrictions on the particular property. Hammer said many inmates housed at the facility could be hardened criminals.
“I respectfully submit to you that if you have been removed and imprisoned for ‘an extended period of time,’” he said, quoting the RFP, “it is unlikely that it is a parking offense.”
After their three- to four-month term at the halfway house expires, argued Hammer, inmates will be released and avail themselves of local social services, which are already insufficient to meet the current local need.”
Virginia Graf, a resident who lives near the site, said she supports the mission of rehabilitation to which halfway houses are meant to contribute but thinks the Kabletown Road location would be unsuitable.
“I do believe in rehabilitation of people … but I do not believe this is a suitable residential area for this kind of rehabilitation,” she said, citing the distance of the facility from any educational institutions, public transportation, public services and jobs.
She also questioned the motivations of private, for-profit re-entry services firms like MinSec.
“For-profit organizations are in it for themselves, and they are not in it for service or the general good,” Graff said.
James Tolbert, expressed opposition to the proposal as well, and urged commissioners not to contribute to the mass incarceration of African American and Latino men, citing a book that compares modern racial inequalities in incarceration rights to the Jim Crow laws of the early 20th-century South.
All county commissioners expressed opposition to the project, and voted unanimously to send a letter voicing their opinions to MinSec and the Bureau of Prisons.
Lyn Widmyer was angry that the county governments did not notice the RFP that could bring the re-entry center to Jefferson County.
“If the Federal Bureau of Prisons is out soliciting proposals for this kind of use, not to let us know, as county commissioners … I think we should suggest that that never happen again,” she said.
“I too am totally opposed to this location, but there are locations where I believe this kind of halfway house could be appropriate,” said Dale Manuel, suggesting that the Burr Industrial Park would be an ideal location since it is close to law enforcement, jobs and public services but is also far from residential areas.
Walt Pellish said he was “unalterably opposed to this project.”
But Pellish said he had taken note of the universal opposition to the project among advocates of what he called “social justice” and their unwillingness to live up to their beliefs when they would be personally impacted.
“I just have to sit here and wonder, where is the moral outrage for social justice?” asked Pellish. “Aren’t some of these people part of the group that has been held down, abused, victimized by some of the awful things that occur in the United States, according to what we see in the media and some of the political rhetoric we hear on a day-to-day basis? Where is the moral outrage for the Latinos, the women, the blacks who might be part of this prison group? Don’t they deserve to be rehabilitated? Sometimes I wonder if we are really serious about what we latch on to, and all of a sudden the reasons for latching on to things go flying out the window when confronted with (Not In My Back Yard),” he said.
An American citizen is almost five times as likely as a British citizen to be in prison, almost nine times as likely as a German citizen, and more than 10 times as likely as a Swedish citizen.
‘America’s tough on crime’ laws make for high incarceration rates
While America had a steady incarceration rate until the late 1970s, it has tripled since 1980 following the imposition of “tough on crime” sentencing policies like mandatory minimums, three strikes laws and longer sentences, particularly for drug offenses. This higher incarceration rate has led to extensive prison overcrowding
The U.S. now has a higher per capita prison population than any other nation in the world, and has a far higher prison population than other industrialized countries, according to statistics from the UK-based International Centre for Prison Studies.
An American citizen is almost five times as likely as a British citizen to be in prison, almost nine times as likely as a German citizen, and more than 10 times as likely as a Swedish citizen.
Americans are even far more likely to be in prison than citizens of countries ruled authoritarian and dictatorial regimes – one and a half times as likely as Russians, more than twice as likely as Iranians, and six times as likely as Chinese or Burmese citizens – though many of these societies corporally punish or execute offenders, often extrajuridicially, rather than imprisoning them, which distorts these statistics.
Incarceration rates show a high degree of racial stratification. Black Americans are more than six times as likely as white Americans to be in prison, Latino Americans almost three times as likely, according to Department of Justice statistics.
Scientific studies of the relationship between sentence length and the likelihood of recidivism are somewhat mixed, but generally either show that there is no relationship between the two, or that inmates who receive longer sentences are slightly more likely to commit further crimes than counterparts who receive shorter sentences for similar offenses.
Criminal justice scholars point to a number of possible causes for this phenomenon, including severed ties with friends, family and communities that are more likely with longer sentences and which inhibit successful re-integration into life outside of prison.
Halfway houses attempt to reduce recidivism rates by providing services to promote reintegration. A study from the Re-entry Resources Center on the effect of halfway houses in Ohio showed that offenders treated in halfway houses had significantly reduced recidivism rates, dropping from 49 percent in the untreated population to 36 in the treated population.


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