Five years ago, a statewide report found that Dauphin County had the highest recidivism rate in the state, beating out Philadelphia with 67.5 percent of inmates returning to jail after an initial offense.
Despite the staggering numbers, the county has committed itself to programs designed to seal shut the revolving door of recidivism once and for all.
Twice a year, a couple of Dauphin County’s former usual suspects become law-abiding citizens through the declaration of a diploma and completion of a program that clocks countless hours of classes, treatments, and accountability checks.
“A lot of them came into our program unemployed and gained employment. A lot of them came in and they may have had positive substance abuse occurrences during the time of community supervision and they now maintained sobriety,” said John Hogan, GEO Pennsylvania area manager.
Maintaining sobriety was the fight of James O’Berry’s life, and his challenger was crack cocaine.
“A person doesn’t end up in the criminal justice system because of one thing that happened to them throughout the course of their life, and it’s not going to be one thing that leads them towards recovery,” Hogan said.
“Once I got introduced to the fast life and drugs and alcohol, I never had any idea the damage it would do on me later on in the years,” O’Berry said.
He said he went to jail 13 times before he was finally ready.
“One day, I woke up, and I said that no one is going to help me if I don’t help myself,” O’Berry said.
“When a person slips, we’re there to help them pick themselves up, but ultimately, it’s the helping themselves pick them up. They want to do it,” Hogan said.
O’Berry is a success story, but he said Dauphin County is far from its fairytale ending.
“You wouldn’t even believe how much I have seen people coming in that revolving door,” O’Berry said.
O’Berry wants to see his former cellmates on the other side of that door because once you get through, he said you never see life the same way.
“The finest things in life don’t always mean the material things. It’s not about money. It’s about being completely happy,” O’Berry said.