Emergency Town Hall: Prison Reform and Re-entry

Kevin Ressler speaking at the emergency town hall

Photo Credit: Robin Eichenlaub

On June 3rd, concerned community members met at Tellus360 to learn and share thoughts about GEO Group, a for-profit prison company looking to take over re-entry services in Lancaster County prisons. Recent changes to the way prison contracts are awarded currently favors the corporation over non-profits who had been providing re-entry services. A variety of speakers, including several returning citizens, elected officials, and re-entry specialists, spoke to the importance of re-entry services for the success of inmates after release, and to GEO Group’s history of civil rights abuses. Organizers introduced Resolution No. 38 as their next step for fighting prison privatization. The resolution opposes contracting with private prison companies and will be presented at the county commissioners meeting on June 12th

 

Sign the petition to support Resolution 38.

 

“People that are working in re-entry have to know this community,” said Todd Blankenstein, a retired re-entry specialist who had worked with Lancaster County Probation & Parole. He explained that local businesses are often more willing to employ returning citizens than larger corporations. As a massive Florida-based corporation, GEO Group would not have the connections and opportunities that local non-profits can already provide.

 

Danny Rivera and Akeem Sims shared their stories of returning to civilian life. Non-profits were critical in giving Rivera opportunities for a new start. "GEO Group would not do that for me," he said. Akeem Sims volunteers in Philadelphia and has been working hard to develop his career in accounting. "There shouldn’t be conversations about us without us," Sims said, referring to the absence of prisoners in discussions of prison reform. To him, GEO Group is a nonsensical choice for re-entry services: "That's kind of like hiring the fox to watch the hen house."

Photo Credit: Robin M. Eichenlaub

Panel members Jean Bickmire, Akeem Sims and Todd Blankenstein

The town hall ended with an opportunity for community members to air thoughts and questions to a panel. Attendees were concerned about a lack of educational and employment opportunities for returning citizens under GEO Group, the exploitation of inmates to increase GEO’s profit, and the influence that the group could have on Lancaster’s immigrant population, among other issues. 

 

Lancaster Stands Up was proud to organize this event with the help of several incredible Pennsylvania-based organizations, including Have a Heart for Persons in the Criminal Justice System, ACLU of PA: South Central Chapter, the Peace Action Network of Lancaster, Lancaster Action Now Coalition, Represent.Us, and The Healing Racism Working Group of the Lancaster Friends Meeting. The town hall was covered by ABC27, FOX43, and WITF.

 

Interested in prison reform and re-entry? Help us keep GEO Group out of our community. Make your thoughts heard at the Lancaster County Commissioners meeting on Tuesday, June 12th at 7 PM in the Warwick Township Municipal Building. We will be urging county commissioners to sign Resolution No. 38 against contracting with private prison companies. 

 

Community members at the emergency town hall

Photo Credit: Madeleine Murphy