Instead of jail, judges in Lancaster County, Pa., have a new option for sentencing criminals: Get a job and keep it. The Job Court connects people convicted of certain crimes with supervised employment.
The theory is that a regular schedule and a regular paycheck can help some people go straight. The initiative, believed to be the first of its kind in the country, was prompted by an urge to get chronic offenders to change their lifestyles — and stay out of jail.
A recent 15-state study by the Department of Justice found that more than two-thirds of released prisoners were re-arrested within three years.
The Job Court plan is the brainchild of Deon Roth, director of Lancaster County Probation and Parole Services, who says it's based loosely on the widely-used drug court model.
The idea is to connect people who commit minor crimes with training and jobs, in the hope that greater stability and responsibility will help them stay employed and avoid committing new crimes.
"Employment is clearly a defined criminogenic factor," Roth says, "one of three primary criminogenic factors that predict whether someone is going to succeed or fail under probation and parole supervision." The other two factors: residence and relationships.
Depending on their criminal history, non-violent offenders who are accepted into the program are often released from prison. But, Roth says, with that freedom comes the expectation that the individuals will start taking an active role in their own rehabilitation.
While the program does allow for — if not expect — a certain degree of failure, each participant signs a contract, and agrees to adhere to rigid guidelines. They then are available to work a variety of jobs set up by Lancaster County, from construction to temp jobs.