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TV cameras focus on jail

December 07, 1998

Voice of AmericaBy SCOTT BUTKI / Staff Writer

photo: JOE CROCETTA / staff photographer




Residents of the Ukraine will have a chance to learn about a successful program at the Washington County Detention Center, thanks to an arm of the Voice of America.

[cont. from front page]

David Bennett Wasser, a producer who does freelance work for Worldnet Television, was in Washington County last Thursday to gather information for a story on the Washington County Detention Center's Jail Substance Abuse Program (JSAP).

Worldnet is the television branch of Voice of America, the government-funded organization that broadcasts information worldwide.

Wasser previously worked as a reporter and bureau chief for WHAG-TV.

Residents of other countries find it unusual that the United States has so many prisons, Wasser said.

"They say, 'Gosh, America puts a lot of people behind bars for a free society,'" he said.

He said he thought viewers would be interested in programs such as JSAP, which is designed to help inmates overcome their addictions to alcohol and drugs.

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Wasser is doing the story for a program called "Window on America," the main audience for which is in the Ukraine, he said. The story also might run on a program called "Prism," he said.

While the program has the potential to reach millions of people, depending on which shows run the story, Wasser said he did not know if it would air in the United States.

He also did not know when the story might be broadcast.

Wasser interviewed Sheriff Charles F. Mades, attended a JSAP class and met with a former inmate who credits the program with getting him off drugs.

For background and a history of the program, Wasser talked to Charles R. Messmer, program director.

Both Mades and Messmer were excited about having information on the program spread to other nations.

"I think it's great," Mades said.

A three-year University of Maryland study that compared 120 drug offenders in JSAP to 90 county inmates who did not enter the program found JSAP graduates were nearly three times more likely not to return to jail, he said.

Mades said that early on, he had some skepticism about the program, especially since taxpayers seemed to want people who committed crimes simply to be thrown into jail.

Now, however, he said he believes in the program. "If it works, let's make it work better," he said.

JSAP was started in February 1989, at a time when few programs of its type existed, Messmer said. It was also at a time when statistics showed that 70 percent of crimes were drug or alcohol related, he said.

"We all recognized we had a problem. We did something about it," Mades said.

Inmates are allowed to volunteer for JSAP, which starts out with a six-week intensive program.

The program is very structured, according to Messmer.

"They live, eat and sleep treatment," he said.

Prisoners are told that if they do well in the program, their prison sentences might be reduced if they continue participating in addiction programs.

Once they get out of jail, JSAP participants go on to an eight-month after-care program. They start out attending meetings twice a week and getting tested for drugs frequently, but the requirements lessen over time.

"We are still seeing good results. We're saving money and, more importantly, saving lives," Messmer said.

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