Present at the March 29 meeting of the Wyoming County Prison Board were (clockwise from left) sheriff Bob Roberts, warden Ken Repsher, district attorney Joe Peters, solicitor Paul Litwin III, commissioners Tom Henry, Rick Wilbur, and Ernie King, and chief clerk Bill Gaylord.
Photo and story by Rick Hiduk
(Exclusive to EndlessMtnLifestyles.com readers)
While the current prison population at Tunkhannock is in flux for a number of reasons, the Wyoming County Commissioners were pleased to report that PathStone Recovery, which operates locally out of Wilkes-Barre, has begun working with them and prison officials to implement reentry programs to help inmates who have completed their sentences better assimilate to life outside the jail.
Commissioner Tom Henry was given the lead in the endeavor, having been one of the original commissioners to apply for the grant that will cover the costs of the program. Nonetheless, all three commissioners have been involved in researching available programs and selecting PathStone for the variety of services the agency offers.
Wyoming, Susquehanna and Luzerne counties will share the $2-million grant, which will be accessed based on need rather than by population. PathStone works directly with prison officials to administrate the program. “We don’t have to set up a bureaucracy to handle it,” commissioner Ernie King related.
Henry explained that prisoners can fill out applications upon entering the prison system to determine their eligibility. “Almost everyone qualifies,” he remarked, noting that two inmates have already been approved. One exception that commissioner Rick Wilbur noted is that convicted sexual offenders are not eligible for the program. In the meantime, the commissioners have completed two out of three webinar PathStone sessions.
According to the agency’s website, PathStone works with the inmates while they are in jail to deliver career and employment services that enhance the potential of individuals to find meaningful employment in a desired career path. Educational and health services to promote healthy living and employability are provided, as well as personal counseling and financial resources to find stabilized living environments.
“They have a unique way of providing housing,” Wilbur cited as an example. PathStone pays 100% of the individual’s first month of rent and decreases that amount gradually over a six-month period, at which point the recipients are expected to be able handle the costs by themselves.
“The great thing about the program is that they follow them for 12 months when they get out,” Wilbur remarked.
“It’s geared to reduce recidivism, which was out of control,” said King.
During the meeting of the Wyoming County Prison Board that preceded the regular public meeting of the County Commissioners, warden Ken Repsher reported that overall prison population has dropped significantly in recent months. Despite the fact that five inmates were transported to state prisons just this week, the facility in Tunkhannock is not yet back to normal.
“The state has been very slow at taking people who were ready to go,” Wilbur stated.
“We’re backlogging because of their backlog,” Repsher said of situation, adding that he doesn’t envy state prison officials who have had to try to keep down their own populations as Covid raged through their facilities. “I feel for them. That has to be quite a challenge.”
Because state-bound inmates were taking up space at Tunkhannock, seven males and one female have been boarded out to facilities in neighboring counties. Repsher is working with Judge Russell Shurtleff to determine which prisoners can return and how soon.
Forty-three inmates are currently housed in Tunkhannock, where other services are beginning to get back to normal. Representatives from counseling service ABT (A Better Today), for example, recently met with Repsher and training lieutenant Heather Schmidt to discuss resuming one-on-one meetings and, potentially, group sessions.