The Elk County Commissioners and members of the area's Tea Party group discussed a forensics program Tuesday morning during a board meeting.
"This forensics program goes back a long time, at least 18 months, when the grant was initially applied for through our Mental Health/Mental Retardation [MH/MR] program," said county Commissioner Ronald T. Beimel.
Initially, the MH/MR program, led by Cynthia Zembryki, received a grant from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency to reduce recidivism in area prisons.
"The repeat offenders, they come in, do their time, they get out-- they live right in our community, they get in trouble again and they go right back in," said county Commissioner Daniel R. Freeburg. "That costs us a horrific amount of money. This program starts when you get counseling in the prison and they have to be non-violent-- we're talking drug and alcohol, maybe repeat DUI offenders-- maybe even violators of child support."
For Beimel, an important aspect of the program is the realization that the people in need are from the area, not out-of-towners.
"Some of these people are trying to get rid of their drug addiction and they're our own people in our community," Beimel said, "but we're not bringing people in from somewhere else, these people are our own residents that need rehab.
"The program is designed to rehab these people and initially [officials] wanted to buy a hotel in Cameron County."
However, the plan was stonewalled by Cameron County residents who wanted no part of the initial idea.
"There was so much misinformation and the community came out and said 'it's a bad thing and we don't want to have anything to do with it, period,'" Freeburg said. "That's when the program administrators pulled back and had to re-examine who the program could be administered [to] without having a centralized targeted group home, or a 'halfway house,' as people were calling it.
"[Officials] then thought that it could very simply be done by just going into individual apartments and the beauty of it, the people will get out of jail and live anywhere, and the program offers them counseling and oversees them-- they'll have someone there to make sure they're not using drugs and alcohol, to make sure they apply for a job and so forth-- so the only real difference when they go to live in an apartment in a community is that they're actually going to have supervision. Otherwise, they get out of jail and they're out here."
The commissioners supported the initial initiative and said they continue to do so.