Lehigh Valley

Northampton County Council approves audit of prison programs

EASTON, Pa. - Northampton County Council, facing a $17 million projected shortfall in revenue and difficult financial decisions later this year, voted for an audit of a set of programs aimed at turning inmates' lives around at the Northampton County Prison.

Those programs cost taxpayers millions of dollars.

The programs, many dealing with drug, alcohol and mental health issues, are not run by the county but by a private contractor, called Community Education Centers.

Councilman Lamont McClure, who advocated for the audit, said he wants to know "where is the evidence this program is working."

The county has already spent more than $3 million on the programs and McClure said the recidivism rate has not gone down.

McClure said the audit, which will be performed in-house by county Controller Stephen Barron and his staff, should be completed by mid-summer "by the time the budget rolls around."

As for the efficiency of the program, McClure said, "I have my own conclusion. I don't want our colleagues to have to take my word for it."

Northampton County Director of Corrections Arnold Matos said the recidivism rate in any prison in the country is a "very difficult thing to nail down."

In Northampton, for example, prison officials would have no way of knowing if an inmate who was released later got in trouble and was jailed in, say, neighboring Monroe County.

Matos said prison officials "do believe there is some value to it," referring to the CEC programs.

Since the programs have started, he said, officials have noticed less problems in the prison units, for example.

McClure said ultimately the decision on what becomes of the programs will be a philosophical one.

"Are we spending too much money for relatively few good outcomes?" he asked.

In another decision revolving around money, a proposal by County Executive, John Brown, to spend $715,000 over the next four years to hire a financial consultant was shot down in a committee before it ever made it before council.

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