Thursday, March 24, 2016

Potter County: Successes Grow As Women’s Center Observes Anniversary

Potter County’s innovative Women’s Residential Rehabilitation Center has received national recognition at the same time it observes its first anniversary. County News, a publication of the National Association of Counties that’s widely circulated across the country and in the U.S. Congress, featured a report on the facility in a recent edition. It’s located on the campus of the Northern Tier Children’s Home in Harrisburg and is a project of the Potter County Commissioners, in cooperation with the court system, Potter County Human Services and other partners. Commissioners Doug Morley, Paul Heimel and Susan Kefover recently approved a three-month lease extension with the NTCH board of directors, which was a requirement to continue qualifying the center for state funding. More than 90 percent of the women referred there from the courts have met all rehabilitative goals and been released. Director Melissa Gee, Supervisor Matt Shimkanin and caseworkers are responsible for coordinating a comprehensive schedule that includes access to drug, alcohol, mental health and educational services. Work release is available for some residents.

Administrators have revised staff training, admission criteria, disciplinary procedures, visitation policies and other operational aspects. The center now accepts referrals from Cameron County for $65 per day, and officials have approached Tioga County about accepting women from that county who meet admission criteria. Other counties have expressed interest in studying Potter County’s center as a model. Most recently, Gary Tennis, Secretary of Alcohol and Drug Programs, requested more information.

Women who are court-ordered to the Harrison Valley facility receive comprehensive services designed to reduce their chances of re-offending. The center is open to non-violent women, many of whom are in need of substance abuse and/or mental health treatment, employability support, educational assistance and other services. They’re housed in a residential setting, where families are able to visit and participate in structured counseling sessions with the detainee. Potter County Judge Stephen Minor and District Attorney Andy Watson, along with defense lawyers, confer to determine if a woman offender is eligible for admission to the center as an alternative to jail. State funding is covering the majority of costs. “Cost avoidance” is also part of the funding package. Potter County currently pays approximately $65 per day to send its female offenders to out-of-county jails, so operating the Harrison Valley center as an alternative is reducing those costs. Approximately 2,500 jail days have been avoided as a result of the center’s opening last March.