The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


October 17, 2012

Union County may give some parolees free rent

It's cheaper than keeping them in jail, officials say

LEWISBURG — Union County is preparing to roll out a subsidized housing program to provide rent assistance to a handful of parole-eligible inmates and their families as a cheaper alternative to prison.

Under the program, the county will pay $100 a month over the fair market price for rent as an incentive to landlords to participate. Even so, the cost of providing the rent subsidies will be substantially less than the cost of incarceration, county officials said.

The subsidy program will cost $7,200 to $12,000 a year per inmate. Incarceration costs the county about $25,000 a year per inmate.

Three Union County Prison inmates have been selected for the Housing Authority’s Justice Bridge Housing Program, which subsidizes rent and utilities through a grant from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency.

This program is an initiative of the Housing Authority, which operates independently of the county, said Union County Commissioner Preston Boop, who has helped bring several incarceration alternative programs to the county.

Without a parole plan, inmates who have served their sentences cannot leave the prison, which costs the county more money, he said.

Trust the board

Boop said he trusts the people on the board who select the program’s candidates.

“I believe they can make a reasonable assessment of who would qualify and be successful with this program,” Boop said. “Why else would you have a board?”

The county will run the program, which can handle up to six people, under a two-year grant of about $71,900 in federal funds that the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency awarded July 1.

It will cover rent and utilities and, where needed, provide security deposit assistance to the participants, who will move on to Section 8 housing or earn enough money to price themselves out of the program.

A panel of probation, mental health and law enforcement officials chose the three inmates, who are nonviolent offenders who have served their time and are ready to be released. These three have a “good likelihood of being successful on probation or parole,” said Scott Lizardi, Union County’s chief probation officer.

“They’re likely to become self-sustaining, to find gainful employment and take responsibility for paying the rent on the properties,” he said. The participants can stay in the program for up to two years and then transfer into Section 8 housing if they have not already. They also can get out of the program if they have stable employment and can afford the rent on their own.

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