Pa. offering ‘safe return’ to some parolees who have violated supervision rules

The state's hoping to save some money by combining the Department of Corrections with the Board of Probation and Parole. (AP Photo)

The state's hoping to save some money by combining the Department of Corrections with the Board of Probation and Parole. (AP Photo)

Starting Monday, certain Pennsylvania residents with state parole warrants can voluntarily surrender and most likely avoid getting sent back to prison for violating the terms of their supervision.

The Safe Return program will be available until Sept. 4. Eligible parolees are instructed to go to the closest state parole office to get back into compliance.

As long as they don’t have any outstanding arrest warrants for new charges, they’ll likely return home afterwards, said Christain Stephens, deputy secretary for parole field services for the Department of Corrections.

“If we have an individual who is homeless and they come turn themselves in, we can provide that person with a place to stay while we work with them on some long-term plan of either housing with a family member or finding some type of permanent housing in the community,” said Stephens.

The department is also equipped to get people actively struggling with drug addiction into treatment, he said.

Pennsylvania is launching the program in response to a slight uptick in the number of state parolees who are out of compliance with their supervision.

There are currently 1,871 parolees who are eligible to participate in the Safe Return initiative. That total translates to 4.5% of the total state parolee population.

Stephens said the percentage of parolees with absconder status is typically 3% or 3.5% over the course of the year, and that the COVID-19 pandemic is largely responsible for the increase this year.

“A lot of reentrants, their home situations have deteriorated and they have lost contact with their parole agents. Or we have reentrants who were coming and going into the centers and for their own safety, their own concerns, didn’t want to be in the centers so they left,” said Stephens.

Under the program, eligible parolees can reestablish compliance at any parole office in the state, even if they are no longer living in the county where they were originally paroled.

Pennsylvania has offered this type of amnesty to state parolees before, including those in Dauphin and Philadelphia counties. But this is the first time the Commonwealth is running a statewide Safe Return program.

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