Constance Martin | The Centre County Chapter of the Pennsylvania Prison Society
Since its founding 1787, the Pennsylvania Prison Society has advocated for a humane, just, and restorative correctional system. The Prison Society has volunteers across the commonwealth with headquarters in Philadelphia. The Centre County Chapter of the Prison Society was organized in the 1970s. Today, our Chapter has about 30 members who focus on several projects.
Our most important function is to serve as Official Visitors for people in prison in the Centre County region. Authorized by commonwealth law, the Official Visitors are permitted to visit any person incarcerated in a County or State Correctional facility. Each year we respond to dozens of requests from residents at the State Correctional Institutions at Rockview and Benner Township, each of which house about 2000 men, and from the County Correctional Facility, which houses 100-250 men and women. Incarcerated residents ask for help with medical issues, personal safety, and issues around education and training. Requests are also received directly from family members who are concerned about the welfare of their loved ones.
Until the COVID-19 pandemic, we mainly conducted in-person visits. Since COVID-19, in person visits have been severely restricted. Now at the state correctional institutions we are able to conduct video-visits upon request. At the Centre County facility we are now communicating via mail and email until in-person visits can resume.
Chapter members also organize programing at the Centre County Correctional Facility. These programs include meditation, yoga, special topic speakers and organizing their library. A significant program, Parenting Inside-Out, was implemented when it was recognized that individuals at the facility had no opportunity to have contact visits with their children unless this was ordered by the court. With support from a variety of community organizations we raised nine thousand dollars to purchase this nationally recognized program, train coaches to deliver the content, purchase supplies, and print materials. The policy at the facility had to be revised in order for men and women to take the classes and to be eligible for visits. Three sessions were conducted in 2019 and plans are being made to deliver the program in 2020 in a new way due to the COVID-19 restrictions in place for visitors.
The Prison Society is also an active participant in the Centre County Re-entry Coalition. This gives us an opportunity to advocate for more opportunities for returning citizens to become active parts of our community, whether this involves access to food, housing, or employment. Our Chapter also sends representatives to the Centre County Correctional Facility Board of Inspectors meetings. These meetings are one way to monitor the County’s policies and the operation of its jail.
Recently we have become concerned about people without the funds to make bail who sit in jail awaiting trial, and the ways that being incarcerated disrupts their employment and family relations. We have also begun to focus on what happens to people in our jail who are struggling with mental illness and substance abuse. For these individuals, we are advocating for appropriate mental health treatment instead of incarceration.
If an individual or a family member needs assistance we have a Facebook Page at: www.facebook.com//PPSCentreCounty
Mail can be sent to:
Centre County Chapter
Pennsylvania Prison Society
P.O. Box 1294
State College, PA 16804