York County Reentry Service CenterClient Services Specialist Ayana Rodgers leads a therapy session for offenders at the newly opened center in York City
York County Reentry Service Center Client Services Specialist Ayana Rodgers leads a therapy session for offenders at the newly opened center in York City Tuesday. The center hosted an open house Tuesday. BILL KALINA - bkalina@yorkdispatch.com

A shift in attitude can change a lot.

And those changes are the most encouraging returns for the work Kim Reichenbach and others have begun since opening the York County Reentry Service Center in February.

The center, opened by Geo Reentry Services through a contract with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, aims to help former inmates transition to normal life. The center has 41 participants in varying stages of the program, Reichenbach said.

Participants are referred to the program by the members of the criminal justice system, often their parole officers. Because of that, Reichenbach said, many participants aren't eager to begin the program.

"We do not expect a participant to come doing cartwheels through our door," she said.

But Reichenbach said she and other staff members at the center have noticed attitude changes in a short amount of time from many of the participants as they begin to see how the center's staff can help them.

How it works: The center offers three programs of varying intensity. A six-day reporting group has 19 members at the York center, and is the most intensive of the three. Another "workforce" group reports five days and has 23 members. A third group, which reports only two or three days a week, will start if there are any participants who qualify.

Participants in each group have daily Breathalyzer tests and random drug testing once a week, said Doug Robinson, a client services specialist at the center.

But past the daily check-ins, participants can start to feel the support the re-entry service has to offer with the additional programs, Reichenbach said.

Participants join support groups that incorporate basic life skills and cognitive behavioral therapy. The center also offers GED prep courses and referrals, plus career development resources.

When a participant finds a job, the center also continues developing that person's skill set and ability to keep that job, Reichenbach said.

The program's success in other locations has hinged on the idea that rehabilitation is an individual accomplishment, Reichenbach said.

"It's not a one-size-fits-all program," she said.

Behavior improvements: All individuals go through four phases. At each level, the reporting requirements lighten until they are ready for "transition ceremonies" — the equivalent of a graduation ceremony. A typical length of time in the program is six to 12 months, Reichenbach said.

The center is a mandatory reporting organization, meaning any violations of parole are reported to a participant's parole officer. Sanctions for lapses in drug or alcohol use at the center can include tighter curfews, additional classes, more frequent reporting or incarceration.

But Robinson said good behavior is reinforced — participants can earn tickets for an entry to win prize baskets for movie nights or spaghetti dinners and for a monthly drawing for a bicycle, among other things.

Robinson said the York center has space for between 75 and 100 participants. The center plans to add a second case worker to its staff in the near future and will add additional staff if the numbers continue to grow, he said.

Geo Reentry Services also opened locations in Allentown, Chambersburg, Ebensburg, Harrisburg, Lancaster, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Wilkes-Barre. The York center is located at 1 E. Market St. and is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

— Reach Nikelle Snader at nsnader@yorkdispatch.com.