TOWANDA - People convicted of crimes can no longer fulfill their community service requirement by volunteering for the local Area Agency on Aging, the executive director of the agency said on Thursday.

Bradford County officials immediately took action after receiving a letter recently from a former volunteer for the agency which stated that people convicted of crimes have been fulfilling their community service requirement by delivering meals to the elderly through the agency's Meals on Wheels program, according to Bradford County Commissioner Doug McLinko.

The volunteer, Dave Bigelow of Ridgebury Township says the practice puts the elderly at risk.

At the Bradford County commissioners' meeting on Thursday, Bigelow said it was "appalling" that someone convicted of driving under the influence - which could be the influence of a drug - or some minor offense like shoplifting, would be allowed to enter a senior citizen's home as a Meals on Wheels volunteer.

McLinko said that, after the commissioners received the letter last week, he and other Bradford County officials immediately met with Bill Farley, the executive director of the Area Agency on Aging, to discuss the matter.

McLinko said that Farley told him that the situation has been "corrected."

McLinko, who is the chairman of the local Area Agency on Aging's board of directors, said that the board of directors and the Bradford County commissioners will make sure that there will never be another instance where a person convicted of a crime fulfills his or her community service requirement as a Meals on Wheels volunteer.

In an interview on Thursday, Farley said that "at this time," the Area Agency on Aging had ceased to allow people convicted of crimes to fulfill their community service requirement by volunteering for the Area Agency on Aging in any of the four counties that it serves, including Bradford and Sullivan.

He said that the agency's policy for accepting volunteers is now under review, and that it is more than likely that after the review is completed, the agency will not allow people convicted of a crime to fulfill their community service requirement at the agency.

Farley also said that the AAA will likely start requiring that any volunteer for the agency be subject to a criminal background check. Staff who work for the agency already undergo a criminal background check before they are hired, he said.

But Farley also said that very few of the local Area Agency on Aging's volunteers were people who had been sentenced to do community service.

In late 2012, for example, there were 278 volunteers working for the Area Agency on Aging in Bradford County, of whom only three were fulfilling a community service requirement, Farley said.

And there have been procedures in place to make sure that no one who was fulfilling their community service requirement at the local Area Agency on Aging was a threat to the community, he said.

Farley explained that, as a rule, when a person who had committed a crime approached the Area Agency on Aging to request that he or she be allowed to do their community service at the agency, a staff person from the agency contacted the Bradford County Probation Department to find out about the background of the person, including the crime he or she had committed, and whether the person was non-violent.

Unfortunately, early last week, an Area Agency on Aging staff member failed to contact the Probation Department before a person doing community service began their orientation at the local Area Agency on Aging, Farley said.

"I believe (the person) was assisting the volunteer coordinator with (delivering) home delivered meals," Farley said.

As soon as officials at the Area Agency on Aging found out that the proper review process had failed to take place - which was one day after the person doing community service had started their orientation - the person was "terminated" from their volunteer position and the staff person at the Area Agency on Aging was "reprimanded," Farley said.

And the entire program for allowing people convicted of crimes to do community service at the local Area Agency on Aging was "terminated" following the incident, he said.

Both Farley and McLinko said there have not been problems that have resulted from allowing people convicted of crimes to perform their community service at the local Area Agency on Aging.

Most people who are sentenced in Bradford County to probation or a jail term are also required, as part of their sentence, to perform community service, Bradford County Chief Probation Officer Tom Schuster said.

The community service is performed after an offender is released from jail, while he or she is on parole, he said.

Many dozens of agencies and municipalities in Bradford County, such as the Bentley Creek Lions Club, Towanda Baptist Hill Cemetery, the New Albany Community Library, and Ridgebury Township, provide opportunities for people convicted of crimes to perform their required community service, according to written information provided the Bradford County Probation Department.

Bigelow also stated that he had been "terminated" by the Area Agency on Aging as a volunteer Meals on Wheels driver when he raised his concerns with officials from the Area Agency on Agency.

But Farley said that Bigelow would not have been terminated for raising his concerns with officials of the agency.

Schuster also said that people who are convicted of DUI would be doing their community service on a litter brigade, and not at an agency such as the Area Agency on Aging.

McLinko said that, before Bigelow raised the issue last week, he had not known that people convicted of crimes were fulfilling their community service requirement as Meals on Wheels drivers for the Area Agency on Aging.

James Loewenstein can be reached at (570) 265-1633; or email: jloewenstein@thedailyreview.com.