SHARON, Pa. (WKBN) – As controversy over the use of a century-old mansion as a halfway house continues to grow, directors with the Mercer County United Way are finding themselves caught between city officials in Sharon and the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.
In the late 1950s, the Sawhill family turned the 7-acre parcel on Sharon’s west hill over to the United Way. For close to 30 years, the state has leased the property and now pays the agency about $100,000 a year to house several former inmates that are trying to get back into the community.
Jim Micsky, executive director of the United Way of Mercer County, said the United Way relies on money generated from the property to offset administrative costs.
“The community’s interest is the United Way’s interest, and we have always looked at our community,” he said.
Earlier this month, Sharon Police Chief Gerald Smith contacted the state about concerns regarding three offenders living in the house on W. State Street. When he went to the house Monday morning to check, he learned they were finally moved to another facility.
Officials with the Department of Corrections confirmed one sex offender had been staying at the half-way house earlier this month but was recently moved.
Administrators with the Department of Corrections admit that they have been housing sex offenders at the halfway house even though the property is within 1,000 feet of a public elementary school. In addition, four churches are across the street and Smith said a nearby building is being turned into a charter school.
“I’ve been told through the grapevine that the state’s in a tight position because private halfway houses won’t take sex offenders and this is a state-run facility,” Chief Smith said.
Smith said he now checks the national Megan’s Law registry to see if any other offenders are staying at the halfway house, encouraging residents to do the same. He said the murder last week of an Ohio State University student — and the arrest of a convicted rapist in the crime — should be a warning.
“I don’t think we should wait until we lose a child before we decide that this is unethical and inappropriate to put them there,” he said.
That’s the point the chief said he will try to make this week when city officials and local state lawmakers hold a conference call with administrators at the Department of Corrections.
Despite the chief’s concerns, state officials claim there have not been any problems with any of the residents staying there.
The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections released the following about the situation:
Community Corrections provides a valuable service to returning citizens by allowing them opportunity to transition safely back into the community. We work with reentrants to gain sustainable employment and permanent housing, while providing structure and accountability.
Residents and their property are searched each time they enter the center and given a breathalyzer test. Residents are subject to daily curfew and room inspections as well as regular property searches and drug testing. Residents earn time out of the center based on their employment, outpatient treatment, appointments, and volunteer hours. Outpatient treatment is coordinated for three specific populations (sex offender, mental health, and Alcohol and Other Drugs) as mandated by the PBPP. DOC and PBPP work with outpatient treatment providers to ensure compliance and intervention as necessary.
Residents of the Sharon CCC completed over 500 hours of community service each month in 2016. Some of the notable community services sites are Sharon City Building, Waterfire, local churches, Salvation Army and Career Links. Sharon CCC has a 70-75 percent employment rate. Once the resident secures employment, Sharon CCC ensures the residents are paying court cost, fines and restitution fees.
Approximately 50 percent of the residents are on State Intermediate Punishment which is a flat 2-year diversionary sentence. Nearly half of the 25 residents are from Mercer County. The other residents are from the surrounding counties.
Ninety percent of incarcerated individuals return to the community one day, regardless of the crimes for which they were sentenced. When they enter the DOC, they are evaluated for appropriate treatment programming that is to be provided to them prior to their release.
There are sex offenders who require transfer through a community corrections center. These individuals are highly-supervised as they work to rebuild family support, find jobs and pay taxes, with goal of successful transition to community. People transition through community corrections centers every day.”