ESSA Bank & Trust,1 located in Stroudsburg, PA, provides financial education and loans to ex-offenders who are leaving the federal corrections system and transitioning back into the community. Bank president and chief executive officer Gary S. Olson notes: “We [ESSA Bank & Trust] were looking for ways to strengthen our ties and impact in the community and this partnership provides that opportunity.” Through this program, ESSA Bank & Trust and its partners seek to reduce the rate of recidivism and improve outcomes for individuals and families.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, about 4.7 million people, or one of every 52 individuals, were under community supervision as of December 2014.2 In Pennsylvania, about 2,700 of every 100,000 residents are under community supervision.3 Community supervision, also known as community corrections, is the supervision of former criminal offenders in the resident population.4 Around the nation, community supervision programs emphasize rehabilitation through supportive services that help offenders identify and address their problems and needs. These programs fill the critical gap between the prison and jail systems and full community reintegration with the goals of reducing recidivism, improving public safety, and contributing to community stabilization. According to a Congressional Research Service report, “Compared with the average American, ex-offenders are less educated, less likely to be gainfully employed, and more likely to have a history of mental illness or substance abuse — all of which have been shown to be risk factors for recidivism.”5
For the past seven years, the Court-Assisted Re-Entry Program (CARE)6 of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania has been providing supportive release for ex-offenders under community supervision. Through this program, returning offenders voluntarily work with a collaborative team consisting of a CARE judge, an assistant U.S. attorney, an assistant federal public defender, and probation officers to ensure that the terms of the release are satisfied, and that the chances of re-offense are lowered. Criminal justice professionals encourage and assist participants to seek education, employment, health services, counseling, and other opportunities. Eligibility for the program varies with a potential participant’s calculated risk score for re-offense; however, ex-offenders convicted of a violent crime or sexual offense are ineligible. The CARE program currently operates in the court’s Harrisburg, Scranton, and Williamsport venues.
Development of the Partnership
Building a partnership between ESSA Bank & Trust and the Middle District court was an organic process that depended heavily on existing relationships between Olson and a local attorney, Albert Murray, who introduced Olson to the judge leading the CARE program. Olson visited the Honorable Thomas Vanaskie, United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, to observe the CARE program’s court proceedings. During one probationer’s hearing, in which the probationer was having trouble financing a vehicle to transport him to work, Vanaskie appealed to Olson by asking, “How can you help?” Olson was further informed of the challenges that CARE program participants encountered when opening checking accounts, securing car loans, or obtaining housing — all factors that affect successful completion of the program’s terms and integration into meaningful work or education. Until that point in time the program was funded by grants through the Second Chance Act of 2007; however, funding levels have fluctuated over the years.7
In the summer of 2015, the CARE program partnered with ESSA Bank & Trust, Northampton Community College, and Pyramid Healthcare to provide Cooperatively Arranged Re-Entry Services (CARES). CARES providers offer financial literacy courses, educational and vocational training, financial support, and level of care assessments for behavioral and mental health services.
ESSA Bank & Trust provides participants with financial literacy training and loans up to a maximum of $15,000 for a term of up to five years for housing, transportation, or education and training courses. All program participants enter financial education courses conducted by ESSA Bank staff utilizing the Money Smart training module from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).8 ESSA Bank’s corporate secretary Suzie Farley leads the courses, which are held at the bank’s headquarters or are conducted via web conferencing to better accommodate participants in distant locations. After successful completion of the coursework, participants are eligible to secure a loan from the bank. The bank plans to provide up to $250,000 in loan funds to eligible CARE program participants over the course of the partnership. Since the beginning of the loan program in July 2015, two participants have received loans, and another is currently going through the process. One participant received a loan for $13,750 to purchase a car to use as transportation to work, while the other received a loan to finance training and licensing to become a commercial truck driver.
Participants in the CARE program also receive a level of care assessment from Pyramid Healthcare to determine any behavioral or rehabilitation needs, as well as an assessment from Northampton Community College to identify their educational and training needs. General educational development (GED) and adult-level basic education courses are free to all participants through Northampton Community College. Participants seeking associate degree opportunities are encouraged to do so, and are given assistance with applying for federal and state financial aid. Participants remain eligible for services from CARES providers after their term of community supervision ends. Judge Vanaskie notes that the benefit is extended to all current and past participants so as to “create a safety net for these participants,” and that “with each successful participant, we’re [CARES providers] making the community stronger.”
The CARE/CARES program partnership does not come without challenges. Program eligibility and program jurisdiction is a persistent challenge to participant recruitment. The program is administered through a federal level court, so only individuals within the court’s jurisdiction are eligible. ESSA Bank & Trust has received interest from individuals who satisfy the bank’s conditions for the program but who are under the supervision of state or local justice systems, thus making them ineligible. To address this challenge, partners are working on a case-by-case basis to refer ineligible individuals to other services; however, this method does not have long-term sustainability. Coordinators state a need for deeper collaboration with re-entry efforts on the state and local corrections levels to address this barrier.
The Partnership’s Future
CARES partners acknowledged a need for additional CARES providers to increase the number of people served in the Middle District and other areas of Pennsylvania. The jurisdiction of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania covers approximately half of eastern and middle Pennsylvania, not including Philadelphia County; however, CARES providers are limited in their scope. Currently, the CARES providers are in preliminary discussions with additional judges in the re-entry program to expand the program benefits to Philadelphia.
The CARES providers are also working to develop a nonprofit intermediary that can coordinate the delivery of services, since the current service delivery model relies on volunteers. In addition, the nonprofit’s staff may be able to provide additional one-on-one assistance to program participants.
For Olson, the work as a CARES provider is just beginning, but he has already seen tangible impacts on the lives of current participants. He hopes that through ESSA Bank & Trust’s participation there will be a reduction in recidivism among ex-offenders and that the ex-offenders will receive the assistance they need to address any mental and behavioral health problems. Olson also hopes that the program will help stabilize the local neighborhoods and households that comprise the bank’s service area.
To learn more about the CARE program and CARES providers, visit the following resources:
- Michael Rubinkam, “ESSA, NCC help felons get back on their feet,” Pocono Record, February 15, 2016, available at www.poconorecord.com/article/20160215/NEWS/160219694
- “Smart on Crime, Reentry, CARE and CARES,” United States Attorney’s Office, Middle District of Pennsylvania, updated December 24, 2015, available at www.justice.gov/usao-mdpa/smartoncrime
- “New Smart on Crime Program Aids Recently Released Offenders to Reenter the Community,” United States Department of Justice, August 18, 2015, available at www.justice.gov/opa/pr/new-smart-crime-program-aids-recently-released-offenders-reenter-community
For additional information contact, Gary Olson, president and CEO, ESSA Bank & Trust, at email@example.com.
The views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia or the Federal Reserve System.
ESSA Bank’s service area includes the Lehigh Valley and Pocono regions.
From Danielle Kaeble, Laura M. Maruschak, and Thomas P. Bonczar, “Probation and Parole in the United States, 2014,” U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, November 2015, available at www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/ppus14.pdf.
According to Kaeble et al., 2,783 out of every 100,000 Pennsylvania residents are under community supervision.
The main types of community supervision are probation and parole. For more on this topic, see http://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=tdtp&tid=1.
Nathan James, “Offender Reentry: Correctional Statistics, Reintegration into the Community, and Recidivism,” Congressional Research Service, January 2015, summary page.
The United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania has jurisdiction over one-half of Pennsylvania, including eastern and central portions of the state.
The Second Chance Act of 2007 was enacted by Congress to break the cycle of criminal recidivism; improve public safety; and help state, local, and tribal government agencies and community organizations respond to the growing number of formerly incarcerated people who were returning to their communities.