Lehigh Valley

Northampton County Council takes hard look at prison's revolving door

Controller's report says firm hired by county under reported the problem

EASTON, Pa. - The millions of dollars Northampton County has paid a national company to treat prison inmates with drug and alcohol problems may not be as successful in turning lives around as the company claimed in its pitches to county council.

The new figures, compiled through an audit by county controller Stephen J. Barron Jr. at the request of council several months ago, state Community Education Centers understated the "revolving door" problem of repeat criminals at the county prison by 20 to 30 percent.

Those numbers do not include anyone who may have been arrested in New York, New Jersey, or any other state for that matter.

The county's contract with CEC and the effectiveness of its programs, as measured by the recidivism rate, or number of inmates who are re-arrested and go back to jail after passing through the treatment program, is undergoing tight scrutiny as the county approaches its $343 million budget process for next year.

The county has paid CEC $5.5 million over the last five years.

Barron led council through a PowerPoint presentation of his findings, pointing out that CEC had reported 283 inmates completed their program and no one in the group had "re-offended."

But Barron said he found 49 people on the list who had been arrested after their release from county prison. He said he found the names on court records available to the public over the Internet.

"I was shocked by that," Barron said.

CEC disputed Barron's findings, calling into question the scientific methods he used to compile the report, primarily the lack of a "control group" that he would need to make an "apples to apples" comparison.

Barron admitted he did not use that method.

Council member Lamont McClure asked CEC if it had used a control group in its calculations.

They said they had not and McClure repeatedly questioned the company's officials how they could criticize Barron for doing the same thing they had done.

County residency requirement

Two other ongoing debates resurfaced, one involving a residency requirement for top-ranking county officials, the other, emails between John Brown, the county executive, and a public relations firm he has retained.

Council passed the residence requirement but it will not be retroactive, so the new sheriff, David J. Dalrymple, a former ranking member of the New Jersey State Police, will not have to move from his home in Phillipsburg, N.J., a move he has said is impossible because he has children in school there.

Council member Seth Vaughn called the new requirement "over-bureaucratic nonsense."

Council member Kraft said he has been "stonewalled" in his attempts to obtain additional emails between Brown and Sahl Communications, a public relations firm in Bethlehem.

Council president Peg Ferraro told Kraft she thought his "stonewalled" comment was over the top. Council member Scott Parsons said council should stop arguing over Sahl and "move on."

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