Company aims to help state parolees succeed in life


Nearly all the at-risk state prison parolees who become clients of GEO Reentry Services' York County facility start out with the same mindset about the intensive program:

"Resistant," said program manager Kalen Macon. And he doesn't dispute the old adage that while you can lead a horse to water, you can't make him drink.

"But we can make him very thirsty," Macon said. "We have creative ways of motivating people ... (and) we don't give up on anybody."

The state Department of Corrections contracts with GEO Reentry Services to provide intensive programming designed to turn parolees into productive members of society. In addition to York County's facility at 1 E. Market St., GEO has eight other locations statewide, including in Harrisburg, Lancaster, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Chambersburg.

"We change their criminal thinking," Macon said, by providing clients with job training and support, cognitive behavior therapy and serious supervision — the level of which state probation officers simply don't have time to provide, he said.

"We initially meet with (clients) six times a week," he said. "It's an intensive program."

No 'idle time': That level of involvement, if nothing else, gets clients off the streets and away from bad influences, according to Macon.

"We take away their idle time," he said.

Parolees are referred to GEO by their state probation officers, and GEO staffers can act on the officers' behalf. For example, GEO randomly tests clients for drugs and alcohol and provides results to state probation, Macon said.

Since GEO opened its York facility in January 2014, about 150 inmates have gone through the program, Macon said. The facility is open weekdays, weeknights and weekends to accommodate its clients.

Each client's risks are assessed and targeted, and an individualized program is tailored to his or her needs in securing a job, changing ways of thinking and even beating an addiction, according to Macon.

Clients are welcome to come in at any time to work on their resumes or simply to talk to a mentor.

Real-world skills: Joseph Spencer is job developer for GEO's York County facility, heading up GEO's workforce development program.

Among other things, the program teaches clients how to write resumes and how to present themselves well during job interviews. Clients can do mock interviews, so they feel more comfortable during real interviews, and they can be partnered with a mentor who can support and encourage them, Spencer said.

GEO has partnerships with the York Literacy Council, which helps clients obtain their GEDs, Spencer said. GEO also partners with Harrisburg Area Community College, where clients can take classes in career tracks that include welding and culinary arts, he said.

Community support: Asbury United Methodist Church donated suits and ties to GEO so clients have something to wear on job interviews, according to Spencer, and GEO even offered a class in how to tie a necktie.

"You'd be surprised at how many people can't tie a tie," he said.

GEO also works with "offender-friendly employers," Macon said, meaning employers willing to hire someone who has served time in state prison.

Success story: He said one York GEO client hired as a dishwasher at a chain restaurant in York County has worked his way up to assistant manager.

"Those are the stories we like to hear," Macon said.

Spencer said he gets a sense of gratification when he helps a client land a job or a promotion.

"I love what I do," he said.

"We want the guys to see the light at the end of the tunnel," Macon said. "They don't have a track record of people having faith in them."

— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at