Halfway House Plan Shot Down, Expert Reacts

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Scranton's zoning board shot down the plan to house 112 convicts in apartments in downtown Scranton after residents and business owners complained.

They expressed worry about safety above all else, voicing their concerns to members of the board at a meeting Wednesday night.

"The large placement of convicted felons at the very center of the city of Scranton does nothing to let the city climb out of the distressed status. In fact, it's my belief that the city, already stretched to the limit with fire and police protection, cannot afford to accommodate a further threat to public safety," said David Price at the meeting.

The zoning board unanimously voted "no" to the halfway house plan.

Dr. Harry Dammer of the University of Scranton said that is not surprising.

"I know this is a common thing. People don't want halfway houses in their backyard, as you know, nimby. But I also know that halfway houses are essential for rehabilitation, for reentry back into the community and if these people have nowhere to go, it's very problematic," said Dammer.

He is a criminology expert, a former probation officer and the author of a book about prisoners returning to communities. He said people may be surprised to learn that, just because convicts are nearby does not necessarily make an area unsafe. For the most part, Dr. Dammer said, those eligible for halfway houses are generally not violent or sexual offenders, plus he said there is security.

There are several halfway houses already in Scranton. They are not clearly marked, and Newswatch 16 found cameras outside each one.

"Because there's a police presence, parole officers are visiting and all that, it doesn't create an unsafe neighborhood," said Dr. Dammer.

He added if anything, Scranton needs more opportunities for former prisoners, especially a transitional living space for women.

"Ninety-five to 98 percent of all people who go to prison get out, so the question is what are we going to do with them when they get out? Would we rather have them supervised or would we rather have them not supervised? So sometimes people don't know, you know, their fears get the best of them in this case," said Dr. Dammer.

There is a chance the Scranton Zoning Board's decision could be appealed within the next 30 days.