WILLIAMSPORT – After being convicted of a crime, reentering society is a difficult battle, one that Nicole English is eager to be a part of.
English is a case worker at GEO Reentry Services, a private company that has contracted with the county for the past five years. It was brought in to help combat the drug epidemic and overcrowding in the county jail.
Growing up in Williamsport and attending Williamsport High School meant English saw many of the needs of the area.
“I really have a passion for helping people, I think that’s why I chose this field,” English said. “Some of these people have never graduated anything. It’s just exciting seeing that and helping them move forward.”
When participants are first assigned to the reentry program they often arrive upset, begrudging the court order and thinking this will be similar probation or going to prison. But English said they soon find that she doesn’t carry handcuffs and the GEO program is meant to show them how to succeed in the community.
The program runs for at least six months, but participants often stay longer. It often depends on the person, English said. Even after graduation some stay involved in alumni activities because they value the support system.
“They are told they have to be here six days a week,” English said. “They understand that this is a safe place … We’re helping them, we’re not punishing them. We’re not sending them back to jail.”
Criticism of the GEO program lingers throughout the community, English said, adding that people will say their participants are just criminals, that they could never change.
“That’s not true,” She said. “We see mini changes in them the minute they walk in the door.”
Sometimes people don’t understand what we do and how we operate and the change that we’re trying to make in these people’s lives.”
The program continues to be a point of contention among county leadership due to the perceived cost of the program versus the rewards.
The county pays about $700,000 per year for the program. It’s current contract runs out in 2021.
“We are doing what we need to be doing to keep people out of jail,” English said. “As a staff here we enjoy what we do and we put in the effort to do what we need to do and make some changes.”