Thursday, September 12, 2013

GUEST BLOG Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape: Eliminate the Barriers, Create Opportunity

Matthew T. Mangino
Guest Blog, Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape
September 11, 2013

As a former prosecutor who spent six years on the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole, I am continually struck by the “well-intentioned” barriers created to offender reintegration. Those barriers are particularly oppressive for sex offenders.

More than two years have passed since the Pennsylvania Supreme Court invalidated an Allegheny County ordinance that restricted where convicted sex offenders could live. The Court ruled the ordinance would banish offenders to “localized penal colonies” with little access to jobs, support or even their families.

There is ample scientific evidence showing residency laws interfere with the reintegration of sex offenders into society. “Criminal offenders who have stable housing, stable employment and support systems in their lives, those people are less likely to go on and commit new crimes,” said Dr. Jill S. Levenson, a professor at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.

After acknowledging the research and the court’s decision, why would lawmakers propose a new statewide residency restriction? In January, lawmakers introduced Senate Bill 86 to prohibit convicted sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a school, day care, preschool, bus stop, playground or recreation center.

Before being paroled, sex offenders have completed rigorous sex offender treatment plans. Offenders have articulated the benefits from programming during parole interviews and have provided adequate home and employment plans. Offenders participate in continued treatment on the street under the supervision of a parole agents.

Independent studies of the effectiveness of in-prison treatment programs and out-patient treatment on the street, for sex offenders have demonstrated that evidence-based programs can reduce recidivism.

Recently, researchers at the RAND Corporation found that inmates who participated in correctional education programs had a 43 percent lower chance of returning to prison than those who did not. Employment opportunities also increased by 13 percent.

Last January, I wrote in the Pennsylvania Law Weekly that an offender facing reintegration into the community must deal with many obstacles. Finding employment may be the most difficult obstacle and yet may be the most important component of success. Offenders returning home from prison often identify employment as the most important factor that helped them stay crime-free, according to the National Re-entry Resource Center.

The unemployment rate of formerly incarcerated offenders one year after release may be as high as 60 percent, according to Joan Petersilia in When Prisoners Come Home, and there is an increasing reluctance among employers to hire people with criminal histories.

Formerly incarcerated men earn approximately 40 percent less per year than those who have never been incarcerated. Unfortunately, many offenders are ill-equipped to break the cycle of incarceration. They lack the education and workforce skills needed to succeed in the labor market and the problem-solving skills needed to address the challenges of re-entry, according to Doris Layton MacKenzie in What Works in Corrections.
Instead of creating barriers, we would do well to create opportunity for offenders being released from prison. Such efforts will, in the long term, make our neighborhoods safer and communities stronger.

Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. He is the former district attorney for Lawrence County and former member of the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole. You can reach him at and follow him on Twitter @MatthewTMangino

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