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Offender Re-integration Program / Jail Collaborative

Bright IdeaThe Allegheny County Jail Collaborative, consisting of DHS, the Allegheny County Jail (ACJ), and the Allegheny County Health Department, was created in 2000 because county leadership observed that not enough was being done for former inmates to support their reentry into the community. Since that time, the Jail Collaborative has met on a monthly basis to address two primary goals: increase public safety and reduce recidivism. To achieve these goals, the Collaborative joins the forces of government agencies, court officials, service providers, ex-offenders, faith-based community organizations, families and the community at large.  

Related Information 

Community Re-integration Program is the foundation for the Jail Collaborative

The recommendation for the Community Re-integration program at the Allegheny County Jail was rooted in suggestions made by a committee commissioned by Jim Roddey, then Chief Executive of Allegheny County. In 2000, the Jail Transition Committee made recommendations for the needed changes in the operation and administration of the County Jail and its programs in the Jail Transition Committee Report. The committee suggested an approach that would be centered on reducing recidivism by focusing on treatment and services in the jail as well as intensive support for inmates and ex-offenders.

The committee recommended that the County Corrections System focus on several key issues, which included:

  • Coordination among agencies and departments;
  • Management information systems;
  • Individual case management for services for inmates in the jail, alternative incarceration and after release in the community;
  • The identification of program needs in the jail and in the community;
  • Alternative incarceration programs including house arrest;
  • Treatment programs in the jail and the community;
  • Post-release planning and coordination;
  • Halfway and step-down programs;
  • The distinctive needs of female inmates;
  • Jail and community program evaluations; and
  • Program funding and grants.
The Jail Collaborative is formed

Additionally, key stakeholders were called to form a collaborative group. The group consisted of representatives from the Department of Human Services, the Allegheny County Jail and the Allegheny County Health Department. The purpose of the collaborative group was to develop a plan to implement a countywide reintegration approach. Since 2000, the Jail Collaborative has been meeting on a monthly basis to address two primary concerns: increased public safety and reduce recidivism. The Jail Collaborative also recognized and acknowledged obstacles for implementing a new plan that would involve collaborating government agencies, court officials, service providers, ex-offenders, faith-based community organizations, families and the community at large. Other topics of discussion included: Obstacles to implementing the project, service providers inside and outside the jail, and the importance of a strategic plan.

The State of the Jail in 2000

Throughout the 1990s, the inmate population was steadily rising at the Allegheny County Jail. By 2000, there was a particularly noticeable increase in female inmates and male inmates aged 18 to 25 years. Additionally, the high recidivism rate of 71 percent was a concern of the all stakeholders.

Non-effective and inefficient services for persons exiting the Jail gained DHS Administration’s attention resulting in an evaluation. The results were enlightening. While some services were duplicated, others were missing entirely. Duplication of services was found to be the result of the inadequate coordination between the County Corrections System and agencies that provided services in the Jail. On the other hand, there was a lack of programming that addressed inmates returning to the community, often referred to as halfway and step-down programs. With national research indicating programs directed at reentry can significantly reduce recidivism, the Administration determined the deficiency of this vital programming was a disservice to the community. Furthermore, the programs that were effective with male inmates were found to be ineffective for female inmates. And, additional issues that the female inmates had, including histories of physical abuse, childcare responsibilities and parenting, were not routinely considered when designing programs that would be effective for them.

The lack of a standardized process for exiting incarceration was also found to be an issue, leaving some former inmates at a serious disadvantage. For example, while some Allegheny County inmates received a pre-release interview assessing their service needs for reentry, the interview process was limited to inmates whose next step was probation, which excluded many. Those without interviews were released without assessments or service plans to guide them.

The Community Re-Integration Program was developed further in the 2001 report— A Path to Success: A Comprehensive Service Design for the Allegheny County Jail. The Comprehensive Service Design approach consisted of the following components:

  • A screening for inmates to determine service needs;
  • A service plan developed through the facilitation of caseworkers;
  • On-going case management support;
  • The identification of additional services inside and outside the jail;
  • The Courts’ commitment for early release for compliance with the service plan;
  • Addressing the overwhelming need for drug and alcohol treatment;
  • Planning for aftercare and post-release services well in advance of the release of the inmate;
  • Including the family of the inmate when possible;
  • Providing services and case management during incarceration and post-release.

The service plans developed for inmates were the responsibility of the provider identified as the primary manager of the inmate’s service plan. Furthermore, the service plans were recognized by the courts for the reduction of an inmate’s sentence.

The key elements of the plan are:

  • Strong, consistent communication among all entities involved;
  • Adequate number of jail staff to provide effective case management services;
  • On-going planning mechanisms;
  • Appropriate and realistic service plans;
  • Quality programs with adequate number of slots to serve inmates;
  • Adequate supervision and support for post-release services;
  • On-going assessment and evaluation of the functioning of the overall service approach and individual programs.

Tracking and evaluation of the Community Re-integration Program was created to assess the improvements in the service delivery system and individual participant/inmate outcomes. Information was collected and stored in a database that reported information on inmates, tracked service availability, determined the eligibility of inmates for programs, and assisted in the creation of the comprehensive service plan. The evaluation of the program focused on service usage, provider performance outcomes, recidivism among service participants/inmates, length of time between screening, referral, service provision, and release. The information collected was shared with DHS through the Electronic Client and Provider System (eCAPS) system.

In 2002, the Jail Collaborative was expanded when service providers from the community were invited to participate. At the same time, a jail planner was identified to coordinate the collaborative process. Also the collaborative group developed service plans, and referral and consent forms. Caseworkers were trained on the implementation of the forms.

The comprehensive system consisted of the following three elements:

Service Planning and Coordination

  • Every Allegheny County Jail inmate will participate in a screening that identifies his or her issues, strengths, and service history.
  • Any Allegheny County Jail inmate who is incarcerated and has 120 days remaining of their sentence will have a completed a Service Plan that identifies services that will be provided inside and outside the Jail.
  • When deemed appropriate by the presiding judge, district attorney, probation or parole officer, Allegheny County Jail inmates will receive early release due to their compliance with the Service Plan.
  • All Allegheny County Jail inmates will be assigned a jail caseworker that will work with him or her to develop their plan and to coordinate their services.
  • All providers who are working with an Allegheny County Jail inmate within the jail will meet to respond to gaps and barriers.

Service Provision

  • Allegheny County Jail inmates who suffer from drug and alcohol addiction will participate in a full menu of services from detoxification treatment to daily AA and NA meetings.
  • Allegheny County Jail inmates who do not have a high school diploma or have a limited literacy level will participate in GED and/or Adult Basic Education classes.
  • Allegheny County Jail inmates will have the opportunity to participate in employment and training programs within the Jail.
  • Allegheny County Jail inmates who participate in the trainings will be assisted with job placement upon release.
  • Allegheny County Jail inmates who are parents will have regular opportunities to see their children and to begin to rebuild their relationships with their children and other significant family members.

Post-release services

  • Allegheny County Jail inmates, caseworkers, and service providers will develop service plans for post- release services that will be developed in advance of the release of the inmate.
  • Allegheny County Jail inmates who have an approved and active Service Plan will have a Community Re-integration Specialist who will be with the inmate as he or she is released and who will work to assure services are available and accessible. The Re-integration Specialist will work in concert with the court officials (i.e. judges, probation/parole office, and district attorney).

    pdf.gif Jail Collaborative Services 
The Collaborative: Expanding its Reach

Based on county-specific research and reports from across the nation, DHS and the Collaborative made the decision to hire a System Advocate. This individual would represent, and raise awareness about, the interests of children of incarcerated parents. 

In July 2006, with funding from the Pittsburgh Child Guidance Foundation, a Systems Advocate was hired as the county government’s first point person for children and families of the incarcerated.  

The Advocate primarily addresses the needs and best interest of the children of incarcerated parents through policy reform. The objectives include: better care for children during their parent’s actual arrest; improved visiting conditions at the Jail; strengthened supports for relatives who take on the role of caregiver; development of a county-wide information system; training for criminal justice, child welfare, school and service provider personnel; and enhanced services to children in emotional crisis. The Advocate works with multiple county agencies, police departments, the District Attorney, the Public Defender, judges, service providers, community programs, and jail personnel to critically examine current policy and stimulate substantive changes aimed at mitigating the negative consequences of incarceration on families. 

Results from the University of Pittsburgh Allegheny County Jail Collaborative Evaluation study, funded by the Human Services Integration Fund, were released on January 3, 2008. The Collaborative’s vision, a collaboration of three systems working together to successfully return inmates to the community was shown to be of value in reducing both recidivism and justice-related expenses. In addition, former inmates reported a personal value in taking part in the services. 

The National Association of Counties Bureau of Justice Assistance highlighted the Allegheny County Jail Collaborative in its September 2008 publication Reentry for Safer Communities. 

The Collaborative:  Innovation Spurs Funding   

In 2009, Allegheny County made a successful application, on behalf of the Allegheny County Jail Collaborative, for a U. S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Assistance, pdf.gif Second Chance Act Prisoner Reentry Initiative competitive grant. Most of the 15 adult Second Chance Act grants were awarded to large state prison programs. Allegheny County was one of the few county programs to be a recipient. The grant, $600,000 per year for up to three years—if the county meets federal standards for performance—is intended to fund programs to support members of the sentenced jail population to make a successful re-integration into their communities after release. The grant-application process provided an incentive for the members of the Jail Collaborative to think strategically about future needs and ways to meet them.  The pdf.gif Jail Collaborative Three-year Plan was published in July 2010. A pdf.gif summary of the three-year plan is also available.  Other related documents are posted at the bottom of this page.

In 2010, the Jail Collaborative secured a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) grant totaling $499,000—in support of the Reentry Program and systems change. Using this grant, the Collaborative is working to improve the quality of visits and discharge as part of its overall plan to reduce recidivism at the County Jail with particular focus on reducing the strain/trauma faced by children who have a parent(s) in the jail. The County has made significant progress on this four-part plan. See Children of Incarcerated Parents page.

In October 2012, the Jail Collaborative received a third year of funding in the amount of $1.2 million under the U.S. Department of Justice Second Chance Act Demonstration Programs to support the Allegheny County Reentry Initiative.

In June 2013, DHS and the Allegheny County Jail collaborated to create two brochures - pdf.gif Be an involved dad even while you are incarcerated and pdf.gif Be an involved mom even while you are incarcerated - to help parents learn about their parental rights and responsibilities during their incarceration.


pdf.gif Evaluation of the Allegheny County Jail Collaborative Reentry Programs
Urban Institute, October 2014
The Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center was commissioned to conduct a 12-month review and evaluation of the Allegheny County Jail Collaborative’s Reentry programs to gauge program performance and effectiveness. The process for this review and the Urban Institute’s findings are presented in this report. 

In 2012, the Allegheny County Jail Collaborative was honored by the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government as a Bright Ideas.

DHS initiative honored again by Harvard’s Ash Center
DHS NEWS, September 2010

As of 2012, portions of the Reentry Program are being evaluated at the national level.

The U.S. Department of Justice is funding the evaluation of seven Second Chance Act (SCA) sites, Allegheny County among them. Social Policy Research Associates and MDRC are conducting the randomized control trial to determine what, if any, effect implementing the SCA has had. While it will not isolate results from individual sites, it will provide lawmakers with a means to conduct informed decision-making. Results of this evaluation are due in 2014.

In order to better understand how the Allegheny County reentry model, especially the family services portion, is functioning, the Collaborative issued a request for proposals. Urban Institute was selected from the nine entrants. Heinz Endowments will fund the evaluation. Based on the results, expected in 2013, the Collaborative will make changes to their approach, if warranted. 

Related Information

pdf.gif Allegheny County Jail Collaborative Annual Report 2012-13
Published October 15, 2013 

pdf.gif Saving Money, Changing Lives - County agencies collaborate to reduce returns to jail 6.2 MB 
2013 Pittsburgh Today and Tomorrow, PittsburghTODAY, March 2013, pgs. 19-20

World Wide Web Icon Efforts to Curb Recidivism at the Allegheny County Jail
WESA 90.5 FM, February 4, 2013

Fitzgerald Announces Third Year of Federal Funding to Reduce Recidivism
October 24, 2012

pdf.gif Allegheny County Jail Collaborative Annual Report 2011-12
Published September 1, 2012

Jail Collaborative’s Efforts to Reduce Recidivism Backed by Bipartisan Group of Local, National Leaders
March 30, 2012

pdf.gif Allegheny County Jail Collaborative Annual Report 2010-11
Published July 1, 2011

Crime- and Justice-related research conducted by/for DHS
Research reports published by the DHS Office of Data Analysis, Research and Evaluation

County Celebrates 10th Anniversary of Successful Jail Collaborative
Press Release, Allegheny County, April 28, 2010

pdf.gif DHS Making an Impact: The Jail Collaborative
Read how two former inmates benefitted from the work of the Jail Collaborative and reshaped their futures by taking advantage of family reunification, treatment and services in the jail and intensive supports upon their return home.

pdf.gif Human Services Integration Fund and Other Foundation-Funded Projects
An overview of the DHS programs and services made possible or enhanced by local foundation funding

Pitt Study Shows That Providing Wide Array of Human Services at Allegheny County Jail Reduces Recidivism and Increases Public Safety
Press Release, University of Pittsburgh, February 12, 2008

pdf.gif Ready for Reentry - Successful Reintegration into the Community after Incarceration
A personalized look at the benefits of participating in re-entry services offered as a result of the Jail Collaborative, April 2010  

pdf.gif University of Pittsburgh Evaluation of the Allegheny County Jail Collaborative
February 8, 2008