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For instance, those staying there, once they find jobs, are charged a modest rent that rises over time. So, when it comes to talking to that landlord and advocating for that person, we can do that with a clear conscience, because we’ve been doing that the whole time.” But before the former inmates can start paying rent, they need to find a job. He said it is more than just learning how to put together a resumé and helping connect former inmates with employers.

For that, they’ll walk to a program called Career Link. They are sharpening their skills in those areas, but they’re also learning what he calls soft skills. And not offer every solution, but do as much as we can.” Ponce said not everybody gets it right away, yet there’s a point he likes to emphasize with them: “Do you want to keep repeating the same cycle? ” Officials in Lancaster have learned that winding up back in a jail cell often is triggered by something little — like missing a court payment, which can cause a probation violation. Once someone gets into the intensive program, the fines and fees former inmates usually must start paying right away are put on hold for six months.

You by definition make that community safer,” said Mark Wilson, who leads Lancaster County Adult Probation and Parole Services.

Top probation officials usually focus on law enforcement, not human services. So much so that Lancaster’s re-entry organization is housed in the same building as the probation intake unit.

Cities across Pennsylvania have grappled with trying to keep those leaving prison out of trouble, with only mixed results.

The 41-year-old from Lancaster served time after a 1997 conviction on assault and rape charges, but he thought that his violent past could be behind him — if only he could find a way to jump-start his reinvention. After he was released in January, he recalled, he was sitting in the waiting room at Lancaster’s Probation and Parole Office. ’ And I pulled the brochure out, and lo and behold, it talked about a support group for those who are returning citizens,” said Rivera, using a phrase for former inmates that is popular with advocacy groups.

Pushing aside his discomfort, he attended the support group meeting in the quiet basement of a Lancaster church.

“They still owe that ,000, whether they start paying it this month, and they struggle, and they fail, and they’re back in jail in September,” he said.

“Or we give them six months to let them get back on their feet.” Snyder of the re-entry group agrees with having the grace period.

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