2005 Winner
Allegheny County, Pennsylvania
Innovations in American Government Awards
Innovations in American Government Awards

The Allegheny County State Forensic Program addresses the critical issue of prisoners' reentry into society. It works specifically with individuals suffering from behavioral health disorders who are released from the Pennsylvania prisons system. The program not only confronts mental illness and helps former inmates reintegrate; it also promotes a safe and stable community. 

Typically, on the day of their release, former inmates are left to themselves with a bus ticket and, often, no place to go to. In contrast, participants to the Allegheny County State Forensic Program receive a package of benefits that includes transportation vouchers, $200 for clothing, a temporary housing, as well as financial and organizational assistance in finding permanent housing. Most importantly, program staff is available during this transitional period to help the participants with various administrative tasks and to accompany them to appointments with health and social service providers.

This personal assistance provided by the Program promotes self esteem, which has been recognized as an essential aspect of recovery from behavioral health problems. By insuring the success of the first few days out of prison, the program greatly increases the chances of successful reintegration into the community; this particularly crucial as most participants have almost no family support. The program is voluntary and potential clients are referred by psychologists in state prisons.

The Allegheny County State Forensic Program is an adaptation of the Allegheny County Forensic Support Program; participation in the former however, is not supervised by a law enforcement body. The State Forensic program also serves individuals in the entire State of Pennsylvania.

The Program's success is evident at three levels. First, there is an extraordinarily low rate of recidivism among program participants (less than 10 percent on average, compared to a national recidivism rate of about 60 percent). Additionally, the Program spends on average $3,000 per participant, while the national cost of each recidivist is estimated at $25,000 per year. Second, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections strongly supports the Program. Referrals are now received from all 26 Pennsylvania state prisons, indicating a high level of collaboration. The Department of Human Services support has also been crucial. On the third level, the Program--due to its excellent reputation--has fostered relationships with providers of community services. Whereas only one community mental health service provider worked with program participants at the outset, now all eight service coordination units in the County regularly accept State Forensic Program participants.

The program is highly replicable and numerous counties in Pennsylvania have already visited the Allegheny County Forensic services and the State Forensic Program for training and exposure.

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