HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections and Pennsylvania State Parole Board just wrapped up the Safe Return initiative. It allows parolees with active warrants to turn themselves in to “reestablish compliance with parole supervision staff with the potential for more favorable consideration.”
It was the first time the initiative was done statewide.
“We are dealing with individuals who have higher level crimes and the possibility of going back to a state prison is scary to a lot of individuals,” said Christian Stephens, Deputy Secretary for Parole Field Services.
There are currently 42,000 people under supervision by the Pa Parole Board. As of August 2020, 1,871 parolees were considered absconders. Parolees who are on supervision but stopped reporting to their parole agents. Warrants can be issued for their arrest which means they could end up going back to jail.
“So what we do is give them the opportunity to come turn themselves in,” said Stephens.
Stephens says their was a slight up tick in the number of of state parolees who stopped reporting to their parole agents during the COVID-19 pandemic, which he believes is due to job loss and housing changes. The Safe Return initiative gave those absconders a chance to get back on track.
“We work with them and give them favorable treatment by placing them back on parole and continued supervision and we also look at what other issues their are facing,” said Stephens.
71 people statewide surrendered during the Safe Return initiative, which ran from August 24- September 4. Stephens says he was hoping for more but still considers the initiative a success.
“Now we have individuals that are under supervision. State parole knows where they are at and we are working with them and providing them the resources that they need so that they are living in your community in a safer way,” said Stephens.
Due to the financial stress caused by the pandemic the PA Parole Board also waived the “supervision fee” for all state parolees from March to August.
As for the 1,800 parolees who did not surrender?
“We will be ramping up our fugitive apprehensive efforts. We’ll be coming to look for you,” said Stephens.
The Safe Return initiative did not cost taxpayers any money, it was promoted through social media.