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CentrePeace, County to Sign New Agreement for Inmate Program

by on February 26, 2020 3:41 PM
Bellefonte, PA

Since it opened in 1993, CentrePeace in Bellefonte has collaborated with the Centre County Correctional Facility to provide inmates with work opportunities, as well as job and social skills training.

On Tuesday, CentrePeace and the county furthered that collaborative effort when the Board of Commissioners advanced to next week's consent agenda a new memorandum of understanding that outlines both entities' responsibilities for the restorative justice programs.

"Since 1993 many changes have taken place," county administrator Margaret Gray said. "We’ve had leadership changes and best practice changes. We thought and the prison board thought it would be prudent to outline exactly the responsibilities of each entity here so that we were really clear about each other’s commitment and responsibilities in a formal document."

The agreement, "establishes the joint responsibility of each party in completing protocols, programming and work activities to support eligible inmates participating in Project Restore at CentrePeace."

CentrePeace, 3047 Benner Pike, sells used furniture and household goods. Through Project Restore, inmates learn job and social skills, while also completing two classes. One is focused on non-violent conflict resolution and the other, "Breaking Barriers," teaches them "to appreciate others' points of view, assume responsibility for mistakes and identify and replace destructive patterns of behavior with positive ones," according to the nonprofit.

Warden Chris Schell and CentrePeace executive director Cathy Brown said the MOU brings clarity to which entity is responsible for different aspects of the program.

"I think it’s been an up-and-down of whose responsibility [is whose] and now we can identify and streamline it, open our communication up better than what it has been. I think it’s been improved and it’s a great working relationship," Schell said.

Brown recently became executive director of CentrePeace, succeeding Thom Brewster, who died in January after more than 20 years with the nonprofit. She said she has found the relationship with the correctional facility to be strong.

"As someone new to CentrePeace, I’ve never known anything but open communication. It’s been wonderful," she said. "What this [agreement] does outline — such as any financial responsibility we have for compensation of trainees’ time, permissions that are required for various things — it just clarifies it.

"Since I’ve come on board I’ve had nothing but a very excellent working relationship with the individuals at the correctional facility… It’s really been tremendous."

Board of Commissioners chair Michael Pipe said much effort has gone into preparing the agreement, which has been in the works for some time.

"We had the opportunity as members of the Prison Board of Inspectors to listen to a lot of the dialogue and conversations that have occurred and it’s been a long process," Pipe said. "It’s been a lot of work and we’re very excited to get this done and have this in place this year and in future years."

Commissioner Steve Dershem said the MOU codifies much of what is already being done "and hopefully we’ll do it even better."

Commissioner Mark Higgins added that the opportunities provided by the cooperative program between the correctional facility and CentrePeace are important to the county.

"We do appreciate the work CentrePeace does from a re-entry standpoint," Higgins said. "It’s very helpful to our returning citizens."

Geoff Rushton is managing editor for Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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