State prison holds reentry fair for those returning to society
This story originally aired on Keystone Edition Radio on Nov. 6.
For some men incarcerated at State Correctional Institution Frackville, a late October trip to the indoor gymnasium was atypical.
More than 20 organizations set up tables inside the Schuylkill County prison for the first time in two years to talk to inmates about life after incarceration. The prison’s annual reentry and career had been held virtually since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Not everyone at SCI Frackville was invited to the reentry fair. Only those within two years of their minimum sentence were eligible to speak with public and private reentry partners, including career service representatives, community advocates and mentorship program coordinators.
More than 90% of people in state prison custody return to society or are released on parole, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.
Kelly Rascoe, director of the Institute for Community Justice (ICJ), traveled from Center City, Philadelphia to meet with inmates.
“We start that relationship while they’re in here,” Rascoe said. “What that process looks like: getting your state identification, job readiness program, a telephone – just getting reconnected.”
ICJ’s goal is to be a first stop when men come home from prison, to function as “a warm handoff,” Rascoe said.
“They make it [to ICJ], we’ve got them from there,” he said.
Other organizations that focus on specific career training or placement were also in attendance, like a forklift certification program. There were other community advocates from around the commonwealth, too.
Dorothy Scott founded the Harrisburg-based group, Breaking The Chainz, Inc., with her two siblings in 2015. In addition to providing housing for reentrants, Scott’s organization also works with survivors of domestic violence and juvenile offenders. Reentry is a cause that’s near to her.
“The guys need somebody that they can relate to. Our mother died in prison. She died three days before she was supposed to come home… that was 25 years ago,” Scott said, adding that her mother was incarcerated in Harrisburg.
Scott’s brother, Kevin Dolphin, had another motivating factor to start a reentry organization besides their mother’s incarceration. He spent 15 years in a federal prison.
“He decided that he was going to straighten his life up, and this was what was created,” Scott said.
Early positive connections on the outside are important, because each reentrant’s timeline for success is different, Scott said.
“Because they might have a setback,” she said, “and guess what, we’re here to support them in that.”
Nearly two-thirds of people who leave state prisons in Pennsylvania are rearrested or reincarcerated within three years, according to a recent report.
Jeff Cutler, a teacher at the Frackville prison, coordinates the reentry and career fair. He teaches science, social studies, health and reading. “A little bit of everything,” he said.
Cutler said another segment of the prison population was invited to the event.
“They’re called ‘juvenile lifers’ who are in litigation of possibly getting released early from their sentence,” Cutler said. “We let them come to this as well.”
Juvenile lifers are those who were sentenced to life in prison before the age of 18. The United States Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that it’s unconstitutional to sentence juveniles to mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole.
Fred Porter is a juvenile lifer who attended the fair. He’s been to a few similar events already, but this is his first at SCI Frackville.
“I was resentenced a few years ago, so I should be seeing parole in about 20 more months,” Porter said. “Altogether I have 24 years in.”
Porter received an incentive-based transfer to come to SCI Frackville around the beginning of the pandemic. He said he was as far away as SCI Albion in Northwest Pennsylvania, a more than six hour drive from Philly.
Porter said he plans to return to his hometown of Philadelphia after leaving Frackville. He was glad to have met Kelly Rascoe and learn about the ICJ. He’s interested in becoming a youth mentor, he said.
“Because you know the way society is now, they’re the ones that’s getting in the most trouble,” Porter said. “I want to prevent a lot of younger kids from coming in here and possibly doing the same things that I did, making the mistakes that I made.”