News & Media

A one-time car thief sees a GED unlocking his future

11/23/2015 Lancaster Online By Jeff Hawkes

After his expulsion from McCaskey East High School in 2011, Kenny Shaub Jr. flipped burgers for money and stole cars for kicks.

But a 51-day stay in Lancaster County Prison made Shaub realize he had the smarts to do better.

Released last March 31, Shaub enrolled in a federally funded class for adult ex-offenders who didn't finish high school.

Shaub, 22, grabbed hold of the opportunity and hasn't stopped running. He said he expects to pass all four tests for a graduate-equivalency diploma, or GED, by February, and then he wants to study computer technology.

"This place is definitely where you can get a second chance," Shaub said Tuesday at CareerLink, confident as he got in a last-minute review before taking the math exam.

Educators and social workers in Lancaster County have long worked to help previously incarcerated individuals like Shaub start over and break the cycle of recidivism.

In September, the federal government recognized Lancaster County's efforts with a three-year, $1,050,000 grant, one of only nine Improved Reentry Education grants awarded nationally.

"This is the outcome of strong partnerships and a unified vision to help others," said Tim Shenk, director of Intermediate Unit 13's community education programs, which include GED classes in Lancaster County Prison and at CareerLink.

The intermediate unit and the 35-member Lancaster County Reentry Management Organization submitted a 30-page application proposing to serve 225 newly released offenders in Lancaster County over three years. Another 110 will be served in Lebanon County.

Big goals

In the application, the two organizations set ambitious goals, including cutting the Lancaster County Prison's 81-percent recidivism rate in half by 2020. Other goals include half of the students obtaining a GED and 20 percent entering a post-secondary program.

The groups say if they're successful, the county prison's population should fall from the current level of about 970 to about 730 in 2020, a 25-percent reduction.

Those are just goals, but the intermediate unit and its partners have a record of results.

Under a previous $272,000 federal grant, one of only three awarded nationally, Lancaster County educators and social workers worked with 269 released offenders between July 2013 and July 2015. Of those, 43 were returned to jail, a recidivism rate of 16 percent.

Reasons for success

Intermediate unit and Reentry Management Organization officials highlight four reasons their reentry education model appears to be working.

— Inmates who take GED classes in Lancaster County Prison are quickly enrolled in classes just for ex-offenders after release. "Making them wait diminishes the chances of them starting" class after prison, said Wyman Fowler, who has taught GED classes at Lancaster County Prison for 13 years.

— Instructors offer flexible schedules for one-on-one tutoring and small-class instruction to reduce conflicts with work schedules, treatment programs or appointments with parole officers.

— Instructors meet with offenders in prison to introduce themselves and assess their educational needs. "The personal relationship was key in helping them transition into the community and continue working on their GED," said Mary Edith Leichliter, who has taught GED classes at the county prison for four years.

— Partner agencies with the Reentry Management Organization step in with assistance when clients encounter housing, transportation or other problems.

"We know that a significant portion of people who are incarcerated have a history of mental health challenges, addiction issues, homelessness and family dysfunction," said Melanie Snyder, reentry director. "Those are the kinds of things that the collaboration partners can address."

Shaub has been attending GED classes four days a week, and he said taxpayers should consider the program money well spent.

"All these teachers are outstanding, and they will never give up on you," he said. "I feel like I'm in a safe place, and I can just keep moving forward with good people."

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