By Megan Guza

Some inmates in Pennsylvania prisons will be part of a four-state pilot program that will track and monitor them upon their release with the goal of keeping them from ending up back behind bars.

The Safe Streets and Second Chances (S3C) program will include inmates from Florida, Kentucky, Texas and Pennsylvania and relies on interviews with each inmate to develop healthy thinking and coping mechanisms and find employment opportunities.

The program is funded by Koch Industries and based on research at Florida State University. Criminal justice overhaul has been on the agenda of the Koch organization in recent years, and it have used its influence to lobby for changes such as lower penalties for non-violent inmates.

"Our whole vision is that the planning for the reentry back into society for incarcerated people needs to begin day one of incarceration," said Mark Holden, chairman of the S3C program and general counsel for Koch Industries. "Not 60 days out, not a year out -- day one."

Koch Industries had been run by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch until June when David Koch retired. The brothers have funded many conservative and Republican campaigns and initiatives.

The program was announced Thursday by Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel and Michael Smith, president of Goodwill of Southwestern Pennsylvania. Researchers will be embedded in Goodwill's offices.

"If we're just incarcerating people and not trying to add value to their life, not trying to rebuild them or give the opportunity to rebuild, they're just going to continue to come back, and we're going to spend money over and over again," Wetzel said.

The inmates include some who will return home to Allegheny, Washington and Fayette counties. The $4 million program already has 1,300 volunteers, according to lead researcher Carrie Pettus-Davis, with the aim of recruiting 2,200 in total.

Program officials will meet with the volunteer inmates and create an individual reentry plan based on their education and treatment programs that they have already completed. Researchers will then track the former inmates for 15 months.

"Folks need education to live a successful life," Wetzel said. "Why can't some of that education start right when individuals are in prison? Why wouldn't we do that?"

(c)2018 The Tribune-Review (Greensburg, Pa.)