11 Investigates after inmates escape residential reentry program

PITTSBURGH — Renewal, the residential reentry program or halfway house, has been in the headlines recently for several cases involving inmates who escaped and committed crimes while on the run.

11 Investigates sat down with Renewal’s CEO Doug Williams after the first high-profile case.

“We’re willing to come forward and be held accountable and talk to someone like you when not-so-good things happen,” Williams said.

After police say he confessed to robbing two banks in 24 hours, Rashon Coleman was sentenced to live at Renewal Center as an alternative to jail.

Renewal granted him a shopping pass. He was allowed to walk five minutes to the Smithfield Street Target to buy some personal belongings, but police say Coleman had other plans.

In May, Coleman was granted that pass, but instead of returning to Renewal, police say he went back to the same PNC back in Shadyside that landed him in jail and held it up again.

“He just made a bad, bad decision,” Williams said. “You really wouldn’t expect someone who commits a crime, goes before a judge for the crime, would go out and commit the same crime again.”

Coleman is not the only Renewal inmate to “go missing” this year from the residential re-entry program.

In May, sheriff’s deputies arrested Kwaun Elliot. He was on the run from Renewal for 45 days after using a fourth-floor fire escape window to take off.

In September, Eric Ingram escaped while on probation for a bank robbery conviction and robbed two female Pitt students.

In October, three registered sex offenders left for an approved release, cut off their ankle monitors and failed to return, triggering an escape.

Lee Chew, Anthony Ditton and Amber Avery were all found at a motel on Route 60.

We asked Williams how Coleman was able to leave unsupervised to shop, and he said that’s the point of the program.

“You’re released from incarceration to come into our program to transition yourself back into your normal society and normal life,” Williams said. “You can’t do that if you’re coming to alternative housing and all you do is sit in the facility and be fed three meals a day.”

Williams says in Coleman’s case, Renewal’s policies and procedures were followed.

“I think if anything would change here, it would be a little bit more diligent in regards of taking a look at the most recent reason the individual was sent here for,” Williams said.

An Allegheny County Jail spokesperson says in 2023, there have been 447 transfers to two alternative housing sites: Renewal and Passages to Recovery. Of those 447 transfers, there have been 105 escapes, which is 23%.

Renewal says most escapes happen when a resident fails to comply with the program’s guidelines, like using drugs. In a written response to our questions about additional escapes, Williams says they “escape as a way to avoid a return to jail.”

Renewal says in the case of Chew, Ditton and Avery, immediate reporting requirements were followed, adding, “We cannot control an individual’s actions when they are outside of our facilities for an approved activity.”

Williams says after every critical incident, they complete a quality review process.

“This isn’t going to be the last time an adverse event happens that Renewal’s name gets attached to. It’s the nature of the business we’re in,” Williams said.

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